Return of the Kitsch

They say that ‘nostalgia isn’t what it used to be’

But ‘they’ are wrong. 

Nostalgia is alive and well and playing in a brain near you. Just spend a couple of minutes away from your mobile or other time devouring device and gradually your sub conscious will start re-emerging, timidly at first then more assertively as your brain starts to remember that there was life before IOS7 or Android Jellybean version five hundred and fifty-five.

Maybe it’s because I am getting a little bit older, but it seems to me we are rather scared of spending time alone with ourselves nowadays. Or perhaps we are just so ‘connected’ that our brains just don’t want to admit they can’t keep up and so invent excuses not to switch off.

Twitter is my current favourite waste of time, not because it brings me closer to my real life idols, nor because it allows me to keep up with current affairs in an amazingly quick and inclusive way. No, I like twitter because it means I don’t have to think, I just scan and let the rest take care of itself.

Not really a healthy way to spend all my down time on though, is it?

So you might imagine my surprise a couple of weeks ago when my brain started to wake up again and make demands on my downloadmemory, forcing me to dredge up images of my childhood, happy ones I am pleased to say. About telephones with wires, which sat proudly in my parents hall, Televisions that had wooden facades and videos that loaded from the top and boasted of remote control, yet needed a cable running along the floor to achieve ‘remote’ on and off access.

My nostalgia also extended to a quick giggle about cassette players with microphones you had to plug in to record, integrated music centres with a turntable, cassette and radio (all covered in a smoky gray, top of the range, plastic cover I might add) and calculators with LED red displays that could only add up, take away and if you were lucky, divide and multiply. (Universally hated and feared by schools).

Music CentreI suppose part of all this stems from a recent fascination with the Radio Times, a clear reminder of my childhood which lands on my doorstep every week now, highlighting the current fascination TV and radio seem to have about the eighties, which was a special time for me.

But once that nostalgia genie is out of the bottle it’s not easy to put it back. It is actually great to remind ourselves about a time of limited choice, where four TV channels mattered and choosing a show meant careful consideration, where pubs were for talking and socialising in, not tweeting and fingering phones all night and where conversation meant just that.

I love Twitter, I enjoy Facebook, I email without thought and answer most questions via google. I have even bought into the ‘double screen’ concept and enjoy programmes like question time with one eye on what the twitterati are saying.

But am I any richer for the experience I wonder?

Not really.

Certainly my brain doesn’t think so. We are just not designed to be wired to the massive twenty-four seven and I often wonder…

Are we are so locked in our desire to share our experiences that we forget to live in the moment?

If so then we will find ourselves forgetting what we actually saw and end up remembering via our pictures and our clever little social media one liners: delivering false memories which are less intense and more constructed.

Don’t believe me? Then try tapping into your nostalgia for a moment and see how vivid those memories are compared to your recent ones… Try it. It is quite an eye opener.

Go on…

What have you got to lose?

Milk snatcher no more

When my colleague popped his head around my office door the other day and said “did you hear that Margaret Thatcher died” my immediate reaction was to say “Is this some sort of joke”.

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You see, to my mind she was indestructible. The ‘iron lady’, a force to be reckoned with. Not some footnote in history, or a demon to frighten the kids with. She was very real to me as I grew up and I couldn’t believe she was now dead.

‘Maggie’ was the real political McCoy. A strong and determined leader, who demanded and got respect from both sides of the political landscape. A lady who wasn’t for turning, despite the enormous pressures placed upon her by our democratic institutions.

Now at this point you would be forgiven for thinking that I might be a fan, but I’m not, in fact far from it.

When I was growing up, she was the opposite of everything I believed in and I was pretty sure I hated her for it. Much as I hated everything about her entourage of evil.  Nigel Lawson, Norman Tebbit, Michael Hesseltine and John Major to name but a few.

They just made me feel so angry and impotent. Because no matter what we did to confound them, they just kept marching forward. Eventually dominating eighteen years of my adult life.

So lets take a moment, while I remind you about the seventies and why the political landscape changed so much that Thatcherism was inevitable. As indeed were the deep divides which made her tenure so hotly debated even today.

What strikes me, (if you pardon the pun) looking back, is how very different the world was in 1979, when Margaret Thatcher came to power. In the previous years I can clearly remember, for example, my parents discussing their fears about ‘the three day week’ as they tried to explain to me why we were sitting in the dark with only a candle and a calor gas heater for company.

I can also remember scenes of rubbish piling up in the streets and local parks, and unburied bodies in Liverpool as union action affected every household in the country. This was shown intermittently on a television set that would often go blank during Doctor Who, but was in any case officially switched off by the government at 10.30pm every night to conserve electricity supplies. (No really).

No one would disagree that seventies Britain was in a mess and as the result was that on 4 May 1979, Margaret Thatcher became Britain’s first woman prime minister, winning convincingly at the polls and ushering in a new era of Tory rule.

I was sixteen years old at the time and becoming increasingly drawn towards the left of politics, influenced no doubt, by my friends and the teachers at my school. Through their eyes I saw a country which was broken and needed fixing, but surely not by this simpering woman standing at the front door of 10 Downing Street and quoting St Francis of Assisi!

“Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope.”

Did she live up to the promise of her own rhetoric? Not as far as I am concerned.

I don’t remember a whole lot of harmony, truth, faith and hope. What I remember is greed, despair, anger and more greed.

I also remember the frustration many of my generation felt about ‘this woman’ and how she was ruining our lives. This is why I fought her tooth and nail at every opportunity.

In my pre-student days I developed my love for music and this led to me becoming part of the Rock against Racism movement. I also joined the Anti-Nazi League because it wasn’tt difficult to feel uncomfortable around the generational and institutional racism prevalent at that time.

Anti-Margaret Thatcher badge

(Photo credit: dannybirchall)

I also wanted to get the troops out of  Northern Ireland and felt that Apartheid was a terrible thing. My politics were to the left and I couldn’t understand why everyone else couldn’t see these things  too.

The eighties were really really what started the dramatic change we still live with today. Out with the old and in with the new. Loss of heavy industry, privatisation, clumsy culling of union power and the rise of the money markets. This was change that genuinely bewildered and frightened older people and they rallied gratefully to the old-fashioned values of Margaret Thatcher’s government..

Yet ironically she was the blunt instrument creating this unbelievable change.

Nowadays this era is viewed with great nostalgia and if you listen to any of the many soundtracks and musical compilations, all you will hear is a sanitised version, full of fun times and playful lyrics.

Seldom do you get to experience the raw anger inherent in much of the punk and new wave bands that didn’t sell out.

My personal soundtrack was full of protest music from the likes of the Cure, the Jam, the Specials, the Clash and of course the Sex Pistols.

I loved punk and new wave and I love it now. In fact ‘White Man at Hammersmith Palais’ is still one of the few songs I can sing word-perfect from end to end.

My dress style was combat trousers, doc martins a Killing Joke t-shirt and the ubiquitous red and black ‘Dennis the menace’ jumper. To complete the look I wore a red star earring, all colours designed to reflect those of anarchy.

I was a rebel looking for a cause and my god there were plenty to choose from.

  • Nuclear power? No thanks! The threat on my doorstep, but also the beating heart of nuclear weapons. Many of which were pointed at my doorstep from the plains of Russia.
  • American bases on British Soil? No way! Get rid of them, we are not an aircraft carrier for a foreign power!
  • Apartheid? A subject which got the blood up and no mistake, everyone, apart it seemed from Maggie Thatcher, could see that it was wrong.
  • Poll Tax? How dare she inflict it first on Scotland (even though rates had recently been reevaluated there and were really hurting people).
  • Taking on the unions… and here it is, the real sore which divided the people of Britain then and a subject which still hurts today.

Thatcher had a gift for alienating people, yet paradoxically was considered a good listener. She talked tough then would go out of her way to support places like Ravenscraig (twice before it eventually closed).

Meanwhile the real collision for power was looming as the miners union flexed their collective muscles and prepared to take on the government. Or was it the government that was preparing to take on the miners?

Arthur Scargill was public enemy number one.

By now I was a student in Newcastle and apart from direct action to support the students my big political contribution was leading the student union activity in support of the local miners.

It became a real people thing you know, as time went on and the miners families really started to struggle. I  remember raising money for them, wearing with incredible pride my ‘coal not dole’ sticker and joining the ‘Zulu’s’ at a Nottingham miners rally (where trouble broke out and we had to run for our freedom from a somewhat aggressive police presence).

We put on gig after gig to raise money, working ever more closely with the local band scene, taking buckets round the town centre in our spare time and attending rallies.

It was all for nothing in the end. But I will never forget the pride and energy that came from these local communities and often wonder if the government couldn’t have handled it better. Reaching out to them rather than alienating them.

Current events in #Talons

(Photo credit: bryanjack)

Thatcher won that battle and then went on to win a war. This time against Argentinean forces hell-bent on taking the Falkland Islands in order to boost flagging political fortunes amongst the military junta.

Ironically this played straight into the iron lady’s hands providing her with the opportunity to boost her own political fortunes instead.

The lady wasn’t for turning and despite being a close run thing; she  returned the islands to British sovereignty.

To the delight of the masses.

The war made Margaret Thatcher a hero, consolidating her position as leader of the Tory party and prime minister of team GB.

The media loved her and with a ground swell of popular support she was ushered back into power in 1983 smashing the Labour and SDP into humiliating defeat.

Could the Labour party ever beat this woman? It certainly didn’t look that way and in 1987 the Conservatives made history with a third successive win, beating Neil Kinnock and setting the stage for yet more Thatcherism.

Strangely it wasn’t Labour that finally beat Margaret Thatcher, it was her own party, becaming ever more greedy and corrupt and eventually consuming the very person who had led them to the promised land.

Without her the party creaked on until 1997 when the dawn of New Labour did for the fat cats once and for all (or so we thought).

Fast forward to 2013 and the world is once again very different. Yet mention Margaret Thatcher and old wounds are soon opened.

As I write this ‘Ding dong the witch is dead’ sits at number three in the charts as the result of a clever and yes amusing social media campaign to mark her passing with an appropriate musical salute. The first time I can remember politics entering the musical mainstream since the eighties.

So how do I feel 34 years on since she came to power? Well, numb and if I am honest slightly saddened. With the clarity of age, experience and perspective I realise now it was her policies and her government that I hated, but that I never really hated her.

I am proud to say I helped change the world, but then so did she. God knows what it would have been like without her.

If I can grow up, then perhaps it is fitting for some of the other ‘comrades’ out there to do so too. We don’t need to dance or spit on her actual grave. Instead we did that in 1990 on her political career as she left office with those tears running down her cheek.

Farewell Maggie.

A rest in peace sign.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Snow, snow go away!

I live in Scotland and for much of the year we get middle of the road weather. I mean gray clouds, rain and a fair bit of wind. ‘Dreich’ is our word for it and a better description I cannot think.

But for the last eleven days it has been snowing. Eleven days where every morning I have got up looked out the window and thought ‘not again.

Snow on The Meadows - Fri 18 January 2013 -0041

Snow on The Meadows (Photo credit: The Queen’s Hall)

You see when I say I live in Scotland, I’m not talking about the Highlands. No, no. I live just outside of Edinburgh and we are well and truly lowland folk. We feel the cold and generally turn blue at the slightest hint of chilly conditions. (The exception being when drink has been partaken, which can falsely imbue us with the spirit of our forefathers, who thought nothing of painting their faces and charging around half naked smiting foes and shouting a lot).

We don’t like the cold very much and put up with it when its meant to be cold, but this is March, Easter is just days away and this time last year  I was wearing a t-shirt and jeans and mopping my brow with a rather large handkerchief.

So what on earth is happening?

Well according to my esteemed colleague its all to do with the jet stream, apparently it’s in the wrong place. Too far one way and we get too much rain, too far the other way and shivers all around boys. So a horrible weather stream of rain is getting turned into snow and we spend another day counting snowflakes and muttering into our coffee cups

But I have a different theory. I think that we have become tangled up with an alternative reality somehow, perhaps we stumbled collectively through a large wardrobe or something, because this sure seems like Narnia to me, the first Narnia complete with Snow Queen, eternal winter and a lack of anything much to look forward to on the horizon.

How depressing.

Or so it seems depressing until  you remember  how funny Mr Tumnus was and just how hot the Snow Queen was too. Tilda Swinton played her in one of the movies and good lord, she is Scottish! See? It all fits.

Français : 66ème Festival du Cinéma de Venise ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So what I need to do is find Tilda Swinton and convince her to lift the spell, then the snow will melt and Spring will come to Narnia, erm Scotland, right?

I will get right on it…

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Seven Minutes (and you’re almost there)

How long would you wait for a cup of coffee? More importantly how long should you have to wait for a coffee?

English: Peacock When Dunfermline High Street ...

Going elsewhere?  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Peacock Rooms’ at the Glen Pavilion in Dunfermline is designed to provide an ‘all year round’ place for families to grab a coffee, eat cake and let the kids run around in a great play area with full length interior glass windows. Good for you, good for them.

So, it’s popular with families and gets busy, particularly at weekends. All of which is great I hear you say. But to be honest I find myself dreading the moment when someone pipes up “lets go to the Peacock Rooms” because the service is in a word ‘dreadful’.

I mean they seem to try hard and they have improved slightly by getting one person to make the coffees, to let the rest of the staff focus on front of house activities like serving and clearing. But… it still doesn’t work.

Let me give you an example. I was there on Saturday and from bitter experience I sadly found myself taking note of the time I joined the (modest) queue.  Maybe six people in front, two of whom were a couple, none of whom were ordering more than a cake and a cuppa…

A cappuccino in a ceramic coffee cup

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Seven minutes later I had not moved an inch. Now seven minutes is a long time to stand still. If you don’t believe me then try it. Now try it with a child tugging at your leg and wanting to go and play on a slide. Now try it with a hangover. Eternity?

By the way seven minutes is also coincidentally, the maximum time a trained waiter would regard as reasonable for a person to wait for table service, (and that’s pushing it). This doesn’t bode well for a counter service environment, which is meant to be quicker.

So what was the hold up? I hear you ask. Well it turns out that the counter-staff were having a crisis, one person was struggling and this put pressure on everyone else.

I mean everyone is entitled to a bad day, right? But why does the same thing happen EVERY time I‘ve been there?

Lose count of your order? Fair enough. Forget your entire customer order? Maybe, not listen to your customer because you were distracted? Ok…

Except it’s not ok. This is their job, it’s why they go to work and it’s what they do.

Now training could be an issue here.

Contrast if you will my ongoing experience with Starbucks and Costa. Both of whom employ excellent staff, who despite the natural reserve that comes from being British, seem to have no problems in serving folk with a beaming smile, taking orders quickly and efficiently, taking payment and often seeking out your name to make the whole thing more slick and personalised, cakes and coffee – done.

Starbucks

Starbucks (Photo credit: Piutus)

“But they charge you more”, you will say hesitantly. Not true says I. My experience is that café prices are not a million miles away from the baristas on the high street. But efficiency, cleanliness and customer service are.

I said that I almost felt sorry for the person in my local café the other day. Almost, but not quite and here’s why. If we just accept bad service then it will never change, never improve, which in a venue like the Peacock Rooms is very dangerous. (and yes my comments went in the customer comments box)

You see, the Peacock Rooms are set in a park with no immediate competitor and because they are the only game in town during the winter they’re very busy (rocket science it ain’t). This is why I think they must think its acceptable for uncleared tables, long queues and muddled orders to be the norm.

Newsflash! It ain’t and it’s a real shame, because it totally overshadows the fact they serve great cakes and very tasty coffee… worse still it’s slowly but surely turning me from a customer into a critic and come the summer I can vote with my feet.

But the really sad thing is this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many badly managed establishments out there in the wider world that I just know I will have struck a chord.

Which is why our motto this year should be “I’m not called Matt now stop walking all over me”

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Good tidings we bring

Scrooge's third visitor, from Charles Dickens:...

Scrooge’s third visitor, from Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol.(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I love Christmas, there I’ve said it, it’s out in the open. No grumblings of discontent or bah humbug, just a straightforward and enduring love affair between me and the spirit of Christmas, past, present and future.

Of course like all relationships we’ve had our ups and downs…

Such as discovering that my oven didn’t work one Christmas morning and having to cut the turkey into four separate pieces to get it into the (tiny) secondary oven (my how we laughed). Or learning that a freshly unwrapped present needed batteries to make it work.

Then there was the year that my mother in law contracted Norovirus on Christmas Eve, which led to a highly charged hostage situation involving a Christmas dinner and a very grumpy father in law.

Or perhaps my personal favourite, spending New Year’s Eve alone with my wife and consuming so much festive cheer that we ended up getting stuck in our baby’s travel cot just after the bells had chimed. (No child was harmed in the making of this night as she was upstairs in the main cot at the time).

So what will this year bring?  Surely in these austere times our festive frolics will be a little muted and restrained perhaps? Well to be honest no, because I have a secret weapon. I’ve been given the gift of being able to view Christmas afresh through the eyes of a child and that is a present indeed!

You see our toddler will be three in February and this year she REALLY, really gets Christmas for the first time. Cue mass excitement!

Which is why every morning she wakes up greeting the day with cries of “Santa Claus coming to town” or “Santa got stuck up the chimney” before rushing downstairs to gaze at the ‘dancing’ lights on the Christmas Tree.

Her (limited) viewing fare consists of endless cartoons from the likes of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck trimming trees and saving Christmas whilst Rudolf and the boys or the Snowman take flight in the sky above.

She has also started to develop a liking for Stollen Cake and only yesterday we were forced to sit in the living room and share our ‘present’ ideas, shouted in the ear of a cuddly Santa she had sitting on her knee, accompanied by occasional “ho, ho, ho’s” muttered under her breath.

Thankfully it’s not just about Santa though, as she has asked us about the nativity and the birth of Christ, sort of, although it does seem to have translated in her head as being all about getting a pink baby for Christmas, which will no doubt end up being swaddled and laid beneath the tree at some point in the proceedings, thus rather neatly tying together you might say, the twin themes of a modern Christmas.

English: Christmas postcard picture with Santa...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One thing I can say is that despite having already purchased the ‘famed double issue’ of the Radio Times and circled the perennial favourites, the chances of settling down to actually watch any television will be nil.

But in a way that is surely the point. We can watch TV anytime. Christmas should be about fun and toys and games and silly conversations, of family cheer and the knowledge that there really is hope in the world for better things. Which ultimately makes it all worthwhile.

It’s going to be touch and go as to whether my daughter lasts the week or bursts with excitement along the way and frankly I know exactly how she feels.

Merry Christmas!

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year

Pittencrieff Park in November

I was out walking in our local park yesterday with family in tow.  We were chatting about the lovely decorations on the high street and a huge Christmas tree we had just passed, when all of a sudden we were surrounded by countless grey squirrels on the prowl for easy food.

It was a cold wintry sort of a day and they were everywhere all at once, darting about looking cute and begging for titbits. It didn’t take long for them to work out that we weren’t the best prospects in town and they soon moved on to more promising folk.

But in that short period, my young daughter (“I’m a big girl daddy”) was unbeknown to me creating an entire back story for the squirrel horde and filing it away for our return journey.

Our destination was the revitalised Glen Pavilion in Pittencrieff Park, famous for its connections to Andrew Carnegie but more importantly home to the Peacock Rooms, a notable cake emporium.

We were soon enjoying the bustling confines of this popular café (as one does on a Sunday don’t you know), made even busier than normal by the presence of our local chess club who were on their annual outing (honestly you can’t make this up) and  as the queues died down, we were able to sit back and enjoy the scenery outside as the sky slowly darkened and dusk approached.

Eventually, fortified by steaming hot coffee and a decent slab of homemade lemon drizzle cake and satiated by ‘chess player’ people watching (there is a type you know), we decided to head home, retracing our steps through the darkened park… which is when it happened.

“Daddy” said my daughter in an inquiring tone, pointing at a discarded takeaway lid lying on the path, still bearing the marks of last nights curry, “Daddy, look at the naughty squirrels!”

“Naughty squirrels?” says I, looking slightly confused.

“Yes squirrels, Oh DEAR, making a mess and leaving toast and butter on the floor (in a Scottish accent of unbearably cute proportions), MAKING a MESS daddy.”

I grinned; I may have giggled a little bit, which prompted daughter to continue

“Squirrels leave mess there (pointing) and there and there, oh DEAR!”

Visibly indignant now, she marched off up the path to where we had last seen the thirty strong grey squirrel mob shouting

“SQUIRRELS! Where ARE you? Oh dear, naughty squirrels making mess and hiding!

Stops to look at sky

“AND (very indignantly indeed) putting the lights out to make MORE mess!”

By this time the laughter was deep within my belly, my wife was wiping tears from her eyes and any squirrel’s still in the vicinity were no doubt cowering in shame.

“Squirrels Clean up mess NOW!”

Her subsequent rant took up much of the rest of our walk home and was on the agenda again this morning within minutes of waking up to greet the day. A girl on a mission,  absolutely confident, sure of her facts and determined to give the squirrel community a piece of her mind. It’s priceless.

Aged only 2 years and 9 months she has an imagination I envy, conjuring up her very own utterly implausible yet hugely entertaining explanation as to not only why our beautiful park was covered in litter, but why it had gotten so dark too.

Then telling us about it in such great detail that I wondered if we should be writing it down and sending it to a book publisher.

I cannot wait to hear what she will make of Christmas this year; so far she is set on the idea that there is a big Santa (for big people) and a little Santa (especially for people like her). She is also demanding a “pink tree with bubbles “and has been brushing up on her Bruce Springsteen influenced “Santa Claus is coming to town” rendition.

I hope she never loses that creative spark; I hope that she goes on to write great books or become a genius or something, but in the meantime I will always love her for what she is now, a gorgeous, sweet and an incredibly funny wee person.

Messy, me?

This was my weekend highlight, how about yours?

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In praise of watches

My Metal Banded Watches

(Photo credit: alexkerhead)

I’m an affable kind of guy, I don’t want for much and I generally feel quite content. Put me in front of a roaring fire with some decent food, a nice bottle of wine and leave me. I will be more than happy.

At the weekend take me out for a wander along a beach or to grab a coffee and a look around the shops and I feel equally at ease. Which is fortunate as my wife is also very keen on both, perhaps leaning a bit more towards the retail spectrum as the winter approaches. So imagine the scene, there I am poking about in various shops (books and clothing mainly) and just about ready for a visit to Starbucks when I am stopped in my tracks by a window display. I was lost.

You see I am addicted to watches. Big ones, small ones, cheap ones and some not so cheap, I just love them. Which is why you should never leave me alone too long in a shopping environment. (I also love jackets but at least there is a single-minded aim there  – to find the ultimate jacket – something I have come close to on a number of occasions and a vice which is then largely under control for the moment).But watches on the other hand are always there, singing their siren song on web, in stores, brochure, magazines and newspapers.

Men don’t really wear a lot of jewellery and a watch provides us with a bit of individuality. They are also my favourite accessory, I have daily work watches, weekend watches, I even have evening watches. I have straps of rubber and straps of titanium, stainless steel and plain old canvas. Traditional watches, digital affairs, G-shock, diver, military, surfing, chronograph and LCD. All shouting “pick me, pick me”.

I have been known to buy a watch instead of food and go hungry in earlier years, I’ve also found myself hanging around the same jewellery store week after week gaping at a particular prize and desperately fighting the inner voices that want me to get “the preciousss, get it now”.

My favourite watch is probably a Breitling Avenger Seawolf with a yellow face, which at over £2500 is not on my Christmas list. For the smaller budget there is a bit of a look alike called the CX Swiss Military Watch SEAWOLF I Scuba NERO which retails for about £450. But to be honest I enjoy wearing different watches so much that I just can’t bear to spend that level of money on something that doesn’t involve a plane and a passport.

So with feet firmly on the ground my latest object of desire is a Tokyoflash Kisai Maze Watch which disguises the time in the spaces of a LCD maze, making it very difficult to the untrained eye to read, but easy for the end-user. I mean how cool is that? It is also a more palatable £87 and is water-resistant to 3ATM’s (whew).

I’m also quite taken with the Timex Ironman watch, which was on special offer during the Amazon Black Friday sale. An absolute bargain at £20 against the normal £65 price tag. Similar in many ways to the Casio G-Shock but if anything slightly more rugged. Sadly I missed out this time but will keep looking!

I’ve making every effort not to feed my addiction, but I did recently purchase two watches from Avon (long story), one which I love and one which I prefer not to talk about. So with Christmas just around the corner I really don’t know what is going to happen, but if you feel the need to intervene just remember that I want the silver strap and the blue face please.

Watch this space (if you pardon the pun).

Timex Ironman 20th anniversary watch

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)).

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“Wake me up before you go go”

Ed Milliband MP speaking at the Labour Party c...

Ed Milliband MP speaking at the Labour Party conference. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To my mind examining British politics is a bit like peering into a prefect’s common room to see Cameron, Miliband and Clegg ‘Minor’ taking turns to practice their end of year debating skills.“The right has it, the left has it, and aye the centre has it”. But can the centre hold?

“Who cares “says I

Well hang on, surely I care don’t I? I mean it wasn’t that long ago that I cheered on Labour because I wanted them to come along and make everything better.

Well they did, for a while, and it wasn’t really their fault there was a terrorist attack which led to a war, which helped divert attention away from the naughty little bankers and anyway, we were all too busy making the most of it and waving our credit cards in the air weren’t we?

But all good things come to an end and before we knew it the party was over, Blair called a cab, the iron chancellor creaked his rusty way onto the world stage and suddenly it all became so bloody boring as all the real characters exited stage right (or left) leaving an altogether less passionate group of politicians behind them and a country which suffered as a result.

Oh nowadays you will still get the rhetoric and big brown puppy eyes beseeching you to do the right thing, you will get earnest points delivered by politicos in tailored shirts with rolled up sleeves, you will even get tweeting and ‘likes’ on facebook but passion? Not a chance.

Back then everything seemed so wonderfully clear cut. With radically opposing parties scrapping it out for the love of the electorate, pantomime heroes and villains caricatured in newspapers and not afraid to stand up for what they believed in, even if it made them unpopular.

Not anymore.

Now it’s just dull – yellow, red and blue pale imitators carefully keeping to the middle of the road and avoiding extreme bends with their Volvo shaped policies.

Which is why the words of Commons Speaker John Bercow are so important:-

“”I think there is a wider dissatisfaction that people feel, partly that the parties are still quite similar and perhaps there isn’t a huge choice, and partly they feel, well ‘I said what I wanted, and I voted accordingly, but I haven’t got what I wanted or what I voted for two years ago'”

Well disaffection leads to apathy and apathy leads to boredom which destroys our desire to vote. As a result turnout drops and we are all the poorer for it as we end up creating a self sustaining prophecy.

In Scotland we have a secret weapon against apathy called Alex Salmond, a bogey man demanding independence and who is also coincidentally Scotland’s first minister. A paradox who is liked and loathed in equal measure and also one of the finest politicians of his generation.

First Minister Alex Salmond speaks at the laun...

First Minister Alex Salmond speaks at the launch of A National Conversation August 14, 2007 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He has certainly rattled the ‘establishment’ which is why as I write this the mainstream press are preparing to castigate him with pitchforks and burning oil for telling fibs (allegedly).

But the point is he is gaining column inches two years before the vote for independence here, because both his personality and convictions mean something to others.

So can I suggest that David, Edward and Nicholas come and spend some time with Uncle Alex and learn how to inject some personality and life back into British politics?

Before we lose all desire to ever vote again.

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Can we talk?

I don’t want to bore you or rant for the sake of it, but… can somebody please explain to me why, in an open plan office with no partitions to speak off, there is any need for someone to conduct an entire conversation via email with their neighbour across the way?

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They aren’t discussing a confidential matter requiring discretion or idly gossiping about someone in the department. No this is mundane stuff, like when their next campaign is kicking off or when copy is expected back from the studio.

In other words, its typical ‘everyday’ office work flow which can be dealt with in seconds if only the ‘dumb’ person on the other side of the desk remembers how to talk, asks questions and gets answers; thereby creating knowledge we might all benefit from knowing.

But instead, in our ‘fast moving’ high tech offices, real work becomes lost in a maze of unanswered emails and numbed emotions as we tap away, trying to guess what the sender wants by the tone of their inquiry and wondering just what the heck that ‘emoticon at the end really means (recognition charts at the ready everyone).

So does technology in fact actually end up slowing us down? I think it might you know.  I mean how many times recently have you have found yourself labouring over an email, when a quick phone call would surely have sufficed? Or cursed the fact that no-one has got back to you, possibly because they are no longer with the company, or just gone on holiday and forgot to put their ‘out of office’ on.

My guess is too many times. So remember that the next time you fail to talk to your neighbour you are probably driving another nail into the coffin of decent conversation.

I look around my office this afternoon and seeing heads down everywhere I do begin to wonder –  What are they really doing? Working?  Emailing, on facebook perhaps, instant messenging?

Or maybe they are just plain scared to look up and catch my eye, in case I want to talk to them…

Face to face.

Priceless?

English: Waterstones

English: Waterstones (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I probably spend too much time worrying about stuff. But honestly it’s the little things that can make such a difference. Take the other day, there I was in my local branch of Waterstones soaking up the atmosphere at one of my favourite bookshops when an all too familiar event occurred.

Now granted it wasn’t earth shattering but it did leave me feeling disappointed and that’s what is worrying, because I am a big fan of the high street, I like my routine at the weekend, browsing the shops, coffee and cake, you know that sort of thing.

So there I was busy reconnoitring the local shops, on the lookout for early Christmas presents for my daughter, a lively toddler who loves to challenge my creativity when it comes to gifts. Looking for that little something that was capable of exciting and delighting her in equal measure.

What better place then than Waterstones for such a gift? Not only do they have books aplenty but also some great toys and games and a fair few stocking fillers as well. Surely I would not leave there empty-handed?

But you see I did and for one simple reason, because in quick succession and from different parts of the store I found myself picking up a fairy model, a Christmas card and finally, next to the point of sale, a rather quaint wooden ‘model village set’ in a mesh bag. But not one of them had a price tag!

As I said not earth shattering, just hugely annoying because none were labeled with the price, nor were there prices shown on the shelves or above (I checked).

I mean WHY? How on earth does that help me, the customer to make an informed choice? How does it keep my desire in place to stay there and shop some more? ONLINE is killing you for goodness sake, shops are disappearing at a rate of knots and you make it difficult for me to buy. What earthly reason could there be for this lack of foresight?

It is not just Waterstones of course. There are many other outlets too numerous to mention that seem to have forgotten how to use the little sticky tape machine. But to see a bookshop forgetting how to price their stock seems absurd.

By the way I just looked up a similar wooden model village online; it took me seconds to find a shop called, appropriately enough, Past Times who were selling one at the very attractive price of £6.00

Perhaps someone can let Waterstones know?

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