Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category.

Soror, ave atque vale

For those couldn’t make it or those who could but wish to hear it again, I repeat my short speech below.

—–

Like so many others I first met Chrissie through politics. In my case it was around about the time of the Rally against Debt. No, don’t worry, no-one else remembers it either.

Although we didn’t meet frequently – mostly at her birthday parties or at drinks organised by various political organisations – I, like others, was able to watch via Facebook and Twitter as she blazed a trail through the political youth scene. Her infectious personality, enthusiasm, passion for politics and propensity for alcohol made her many friends and acquaintances across the spectrum – including her beloved Olly. Whilst she may not have agreed with those who held opposing views, she also didn’t resort to the slanging matches indulged in by so many others.

Libertarian in outlook at an age where many, if they take an interest at all, prefer the siren call of socialism, her time at university was to see her grow from someone who thought it was possible to operate inside the political system in to someone who rejected it utterly. It was a privilege to watch as, in such a short space of time, she moved from being a member of the Conservative Party, to briefly (and very publicly in terms of both arrival and departure) flirting with UKIP before eventually rejecting parties in toto. During that time she stood in the local elections (even knowing she wouldn’t win), became Leeds Conservative Future chairwoman, Yorkshire Young Independence vice-chairwoman and founded the local Liberty League branch – managing all of this whilst not stinting on her social life.

A regular at pubs, events and socials in the Westminster area (as well as Players), the political geekery of herself and a few others made the Moggettes a force to be reckoned with at quiz nights run by The Freedom Association.

Always ready to help others, even if all they needed was a sympathetic ear, the premature end to the life of someone who shone so brightly came as a blow to many. An impromptu wake held at The Red Lion just hours after we found out attracted people from London and beyond, lots of apologies for absence and donations to the bar tab from people who’d only ever known her online.

Maggie, Boyne, if it is any comfort, the sheer number of people who have expressed their sorrow over the last month is testimony to what a fine job the two of you did in raising such a remarkable young woman and I’m grateful to have known her.

She will be missed, always.

Friday 13th

A Red Umbrella - the symbol of sex worker solidarity

Every Friday 13th Maggie McNeill asks people to speak out in support of the decriminalisation of sex work and activities surrounding it. Those who have read this blog for long enough or follow me on twitter will have realised by now that this is something I support wholeheartedly.

Why the support? Obviously as a libertarian I see no reason why consensual contractual interactions between adults should incur the wrath of the violent state but there is more to it than that. I’ve previously mentioned that I’m known to enjoy the kinkier side of life. This includes activities that the anti-sex wing of the puritans who seek to rule our lives would prefer wasn’t available to be seen. That’s not the whole story either.

Several years ago (exactly which year I can no longer remember) I once provided sexual services for cash, trying (very badly in hindsight) to play the dominatrix to his submissive.

There have also been a couple of moments in my life when, if things had happened very differently, survival sex work could well have been a necessity. For me it may have been the path not taken but others have had to walk it and some will have suffered as a result of activities which could have made it safer being outlawed.

We in Great Britain (note I do not say UK) are fortunate in that prostitution in and of itself is not illegal – however activities such as brothel keeping (which stops sex workers grouping together for their own protection) are. This is not the case in other countries. In the so-called ‘Land of the Free’ prostitution is illegal and rescuing ‘victims’ is big business for both law enforcement and charities. Sweden pioneered what is now referred to as either the ‘Swedish Model’ or the ‘Nordic Model’. Under this approach the customers of sex workers are prosecuted. Northern Ireland is following this route and the Canadian government, after their Supreme Court struck down all of the laws surrounding sex work because it ruled them harmful, is trying the same even though the government there admits it is likely to be only a matter of time before another challenge in the Supreme Court produces the same result.

New Zealand has shown the way forward. It would be nice if the rest of the world followed.

Clarissa elsewhere

Vale Christina Marian Annesley, January 3rd 1992 to January 21st 2015

Owned by the NHS

Following a recent blood test, I have been trying to get hold of a hard copy of the results so that I might discuss them with a private physician. Previously this has been accomplished by dropping a letter off with the GP and collecting the print out a few days later, occasionally coughing up a quid in the process.

This time my stock letter was met by one from my GP by return of post. Allegedly NHS Guidelines mean that the act of looking up my records on the computer system and printing a couple of sides of A4 will cost me a princely £10. Given that this should be, at most, a 5 minute task, I consider this ‘Administration Fee’ to be extortion and have responded in kind. No further response has yet been received.

However there was a second part to my GPs letter, which, I quote, reads:

Furthermore, I would advise you that NHS information is not to be taken abroad.

Personally I’d have said that information about my health was my property, to do with as I please, not that of the organisation I am forced to pay for under threat of violence but it seems I am mistaken in this matter…

Nice to have written evidence that we are mere chattel to them, isn’t it?

Margaret Thatcher

Born at the fag-end of Callaghan’s Premiership I, unlike some who have recently been emoting vehemently, lived through the Winter of Discontent and all of Baroness Thatcher’s time as Prime Minister. Not being a child prodigy, I cannot though claim to have memories of seeing and experiencing much of the events of the time first hand. As for those born after she left office who apparently know so much of what life was like under her, I can only say that I am in awe.

My knowledge of her time – and the events leading up to her 1979 election victory – is the result of what my parents have said and what I have read over the last 20 or so years. I do however know that there is a lot of difference between words on the page and first hand experience.

She was not perfect – no person, especially a politician, ever will be and anyone who seriously claims that they are should be referred to the nearest loony bin ASAP – but so far as my interpretation of her time goes, she left this country in a far better shape economically than it was when she started.

My memories of events in the world around me go back to the mid/late 1980s. I recall my mum watching the wedding of Prince Andrew, I saw Challenger explode on the news and I loved some of the privatisation adverts but I have little memory of almost all of the politics of the day.

Politically the first thing I remember is the Poll Tax and the brouhaha which surrounded it. Although a political disaster for the Conservatives and the policy which triggered Lady Thatcher’s downfall, it is perhaps ironic that my contempt for the hypocrisy of socialism can probably be dated to this time.

Whilst my dislike (and eventual hatred) of tax didn’t begin until I had to start paying it in its most obvious forms (Income, NI, Council) I became aware of its existence as a result of the Community Charge. A flat rate tax with every adult paying the same, my young mind couldn’t, initially, work out why socialists, with their commitment to everyone being treated equally, would object to being taxed equally. It was the eventual realisation that people don’t always mean what they say which allowed me to understand that perhaps socialists don’t like the idea equality in practice – let alone when it applies to them.

RIP Baroness Margaret Hilda Thatcher, 1925 – 2013.

A drink free university?

University. A place to study and – in many, many cases – a place where you find yourself drinking until your liver begs for mercy. Of course, you don’t have to but many do and probably every campus in the country has a subsidised bar or three which will sells gallons of cheap, nasty lager as well as plenty of other alcoholic products on a nightly basis. And if you fancy something which isn’t watered down then there are no doubt plenty of licensed establishments close by.

At the university I attended there were, as I remember, a total of two places on campus which sold booze (both within the union building) and no shortage of places which didn’t – including much of the union. Assuming that this is not an uncommon arrangement, I am somewhat befuddled therefore as to why the vice-chancellor of London Metropolitan University*, one Prof. Malcolm Gillies, is

…considering banning the sale of alcohol from some parts of the campus because a “high percentage” of students consider drinking “immoral”

Unless London Met is different from what I experienced, the vast majority of the campus – including the refectories – will not be used for the selling of alcohol. Indeed I’m almost certain that it is possible to do everything a student might wish to do, with the possible exception of consuming alcohol, without setting foot in that small percentage of floorspace where the sale of alcohol is permitted.

So, who are these students that the good professor claims to be speaking for? The clue it seems is in the make-up of the student body: one fifth are Muslim and most of that 20% are women.

Oh, and as he admits himself he is

…not a great fan of alcohol on campus.

Therefore I see two possibilities here

  1. the professor is using the Muslims as an excuse to enact up his prohibitionist tendencies, or
  2. the Muslims have found a willing ally in promoting their wishes.

and in the crazy world of prohibition and cultural appeasement in which we live, either option is possible and Alaa Alsamarrai, the vice-president of student affairs for the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS), was quick to jump on the passing bandwagon:

“We want our universities and unions to be inclusive – where students from all walks of life can come together and share experiences.

“Alcohol is a barrier to many Muslim students participating in freshers events and often in society activities – so we’re in support of moves to have some alcohol-free zones and events.

“Though if a student wants to drink in their lifestyle, we of course don’t want to ban that.”

How nice of him to include that last line…

Yes, students drink but unless you are joining those groups which specifically include the consumption of alcohol (wine, beer etc societies) then I don’t think anyone will care if you aren’t a drinker – even the Athletic Union will more than likely tolerate a teetotaller in their midst if you are any good.

Understandably the idea didn’t go down well with the University’s Student’s Union, with their president calling for him to apologise:

Claire Locke said Malcolm Gillies had “offended” Muslim students by generalising about their beliefs. There had been no calls from students to create alcohol-free areas on the London Met campus, she said.

Ms Locke argued that London Met’s Muslim students were “respectful of other people’s cultures”. Muslim students’ union officers were currently fighting for a new student bar to be opened at the university’s City campus, she added.

Ms Locke said it was not true that Muslim students did not drink, and that in the previous academic year three out of the four Muslim students’ union officers had drunk alcohol. “He should retract the comments and apologise to the students he has offended,” she said.

The unrepentant vice-chancellor then apparently chose to widen his net of those who might agree with his stance:

…some students, particularly Muslim women, would feel uncomfortable attending university events in a pub, for example, and that the concerns he raised could apply to other groups such as American Protestants or Buddhists.

It seems that in his desire to be a good little prohibitionist, the professor isn’t adverse to using minority groups as cover.

From a personal perspective, having worked along side a few Muslims, met one or two others socially (in a pub) and currently having one as a lodger, none of them have cared that I’m a consumer of alcohol – or, indeed, bacon.

Certainly at home I haven’t stopped eating bacon, drinking booze and wearing clothing considered decent by Western standards but probably positively shocking by Pakistani standards. Yes, it might be my gaffe, my rules but, because I have a small modicum of common sense and can sometimes demonstrate a tolerance for the foibles of others, I’m not going to ask him to join me for a drink and some pork scratchings. Indeed he is free to leave anytime he wants*** but has, as yet, chosen not to.

Thus once again I come to the conclusion that if the Prof Gillies’ and Alaa Alsamarrai’s of this world just left well alone we’d all manage to rub along quite happily and the world would be a better place for it.

* If one can call something which was formed in 2002 from the merger of two former polytechnics a University.**

** Yes, I’m probably being snobbish here. :)

*** Like with any lodger, there are times I’d be quite happy for him to up sticks and leave but his religion is not the problem.

My experience of ‘Workfare’

The subject of Workfare has, thanks to apparent blunder by someone at Tesco, been making headlines for the last few days.

There are, of course, a number of different of views on the matter, from the hysterical accusations of slavery made by rent seekers through to the more rational arguments provided by others.

Whilst I have been unemployed a few times in my life (immediately after university and a couple of times thanks to redundancy) I have never, as yet, had to sign-on (I looked into it post-uni but I had too much in savings – my debts not being taken into account).

During the first of those post-redundancy spells, in early 2002, work was, for an IT person with little commercial experience, proving difficult to come by.

At the time Dad was in charge of running down a small Indonesian firm based in London which had been used by either former President Suharto or his allies to launder money. Using the contacts he had through this he got me a position which allowed me to gain more commercial experience.

Whilst I was in this ‘role’ I was doing 35 hour weeks, 0900 to 1700, and commuting from my parents home to their office, which was 12 mins away by train.

What was my pay for this?

£20/week – with no expenses.

Did I complain? No. I wanted the experience and wasn’t worried about how I got it. It got me out of the house, stopped me feeling sorry for myself and once a month I was even able to go out for a few drinks with friends – aided by the fact that the weekly season ticket meant that I didn’t have to pay the train fare into town.

It also helped me get a job with a proper salary as, rather than a blank space on the CV, I could put down that I was working and could demonstrate the lengths I would go to help myself – something employers (especially at the SME end) quite like.

Me, myself and everybody else

The title of this blog, and the tagline which goes with it, is no accident. Originating from the Greek words misos (“hatred”) and anthrōpos, (“man, human being”), misanthrophy is defined as a hatred, dislike, or distrust of humankind – an attitude which sums me up very well.

Obviously this is a generalisation as it is, objectively, impossible to hate people I have never had the displeasure of interacting with. It is also not to say that I hate everyone I have ever met.

As unbelieveable as it might sound there are people out there I count as friends – though God knows why they put up with me. I do not however suffer fools. There is no gladly about it – if you give me cause to think that you are a fool (and the barrier is not a high one) then you can expect me to treat you with contempt. The more of an idiot I rate you, the greater the level of contempt you will receive. No one is spared… regardless of whether they are faceless organisations, politicians, people I only deal with occassionally, colleagues, former friends, or family – even if I do just about manage to pull my punches when dealing with the latter.

That does not however tell the whole story, as a recent tweet of mine makes clear:

I’ve realised I have two problems in life: myself and everyone else. This is, on reflection, a bit of a problem. #wellandtrulyscrewed

Yes, that’s right. In addition to my severe dislike of my own species, I am not a fan of myself.

Like Arnold Rimmer I am plagued by a sub-consciousness which apparently hates me and is known to play back the worst episodes of my life whenever it fancies – usually when things seem to be looking up. When it isn’t doing that, it is want to worry over some issues like a dog given a bone and will repeatedly come back to them long after they should have been put to bed. My internal critic is a hyperactive bastard who simply won’t shut up.

To make matters worse, it isn’t even consistent. Like a barometer my mood – and thus my tolerance level – varies. Sometimes I can be almost normal, other times (such as now) I am almost impossible to deal with to the extent that, when I realise, I hate myself even more and I find myself breaking down in tears at my own inadequacies.

Thus I am caught on the horns of a dilemma: if I withdraw from the world, I have to put up with my own self-loathing yet if I hide from that I have to put up with humanity.

There is, of course, a third altenative but whilst I have, to date, written three notes I have yet to summon up the courage and/or stupidity to actually follow through.

Of the three less than welcoming options, the most attractive one appears to be becoming a recluse. Having survived 33 years of myself so far I can at least take comfort from the thought that I am getting closer to the downhill stretch whilst it reduces the amount of stupidity generated by our species on a hourly basis I have to put up with.

Sadly my circumstances don’t make that possible at the present time.

Snow Clearance

In my corner of the South East we had 4″ or so of snow last night. As I live in a cul-de-sac there is not a snowballs chance in Hell that the local council will even try to grit or clear the roads and/or footpaths.

Therefore this year I invested in some rock salt, a snow shovel and went out to do the right thing.

Before:

Cul-de-sac before clearance

One blogger, with one shovel and 100 minutes of work later:

Cul-de-sac after clearance

The only downside was the number of my neighbours who walked past with even making a token attempt to acknowledge my efforts.

On the difficulty of buying booze

Hello, my name is MG. I’m 33 years old and I need to tell you that sometimes I like to buy alcohol from my local Tesco supermarket.

In a country populated by grown-ups that had a government with a relaxed attitude to the drinking habits of the citizenry such a confession would obviously be unnecessary.

However as we all know the UK has none of these things which is why I find myself confronted, with increasing regularity, with demands from the checkout assistants that I produce ID to confirm that I am indeed old enough to purchase the wine or beer that sometimes falls into my shopping basket.

You would have thought that it should be fairly easy to realise that I am clearly an adult, even if you are unable to say exactly how far beyond the currently minimum legal age of 18 I am. Sadly this is not the case as my local store operates a policy of asking for ID if you don’t look over 25.

Yes, the first time I was asked I was flattered. However as I do not habitually carry ID with me – UK law not yet requiring me to do so – this quickly turned into irritation and these days I save time by just going straight to irritated.

On the first few times I argued but you quickly learn that arguing with a checkout assistant is like arguing with a brick wall (and their supervisors are no better) so I no longer bother and instead start unpacking any goods I have already placed into my bags back to the checkout before picking up my (now empty) bags and walking out of the store.

This inane idea of challenging anyone who might be under 25 is the follow up to the ‘Challenge 21′ policy and is the brainchild of the Retail of Alcohol Standards Group (RASG) and it is co-ordinated by the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA).

It’s purpose? To reduce the amount of alcohol sold to under 18s. It’s members? Most, if not every, supermarket chain operating in the UK.

Why does it exist? Because following a meeting with Charles Clarke, one of the many authoritarian Home Secretaries this country had to put up with under the last government, the retailers apparently mutually agreed to sell out and get into bed with government, rather than to stand up to them and live with the bullying that would have probably otherwise have followed. Thus ‘Challenge 21′ was born.

However as those blessed with half a brain cell and an understanding of history know, surrendering just means you get to spend a good long while being someone else’s bitch. In the case of the RASG this means that their work is supported by the Home Office, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and the Department of Health.

This is apparently evidenced by the newer ‘Challenge 25‘ scheme:

However, with levels of sales to minors still not low enough and the personal consequences of illegal sales for the member of shop staff more severe, retailer employees requested a program which gives them a greater backing and a higher margin of error in challenging customers for proof of age.

Yes, when it is your paycheque on the line, you want to do your damnedest to ensure that you don’t get screwed over. Sadly it also means that common sense tends to go out of the window at the same time.

However how much did the RASG fight when the government of the day looked to start imposed these harsher penalties – or did their previous lack of doing so mean that they had no corner to fight?

I think it is probably safe to say that it was the government which decided that the level of alcohol sales to minors was still too high, although what that figure is I do not know – but one suspects that any figure above zero would be considered too high. Given that the utter elimination of alcohol sales to children is impossible, will the industry wake up to the situation they have found themselves in or are they now, like CAMRA, completely suffering from Stockholm Syndrome?

I meanwhile have decided that the time has come to find another supermarket to spend my money in.