A collection of short stories and journalistic commentaries depicting my simple life
and how I fit in with the modern day universe of our times

A few weeks ago, I visited an antique centre with my wife and daughter. We found a couple of pieces we liked, and I said I’d speak to the owner to see how much I could get them for.

“What do you mean?” said my 11 year old with more than a little alarm in her voice.

I explained that I was going to see how much money I could get knocked off the ticket price.

“You’re going to ask for money off?” she said incredulously, “You can’t do that, it’s SO embarrassing! And it’s not like you haven’t got enough money to pay for it.”

She skulked off into a corner, while I went to talk to the owner and agreed a discount of £50 on the two items… about 15% of the purchase price.

When we got in the car, she was still mortified by the experience. We had words. I explained that there was a very good reason I could afford to pay full price … because I’m not an idiot (she couldn’t get to grips with that at all) and don’t throw money away. I had a bit of a rant about supply and demand and the ethics and protocol of buying, selling and negotiation. I didn’t think my message was getting through very well and decided that a little ‘hands on’ experience might help to clarify things a bit.

“We’ll do a car boot sale,” I said “You’ll get a better feel for it then.”

She wasn’t terribly keen at first, but as luck would have it, the new series of Junior Apprentice started a couple of days later. Maybe this entrepreneurship lark wasn’t just for old folk after all! The idea took on a whole new allure, and we set the wheels in motion.

Now let me say first of all that I’ve never sold at a car boot sale before. In fact I’ve only been to a couple…which was more than enough to realise that most sellers are only there because it’s closer than the council tip. The range of tat on offer has to be seen to be believed.

No matter. This was to be an educational trip, and so I rung around a couple of local sites.

“What time do you start?” I asked to the first.

“We open from 4.30.” said the lady on the other end.

“That’s a bit late”, I said.

“Well it doesn’t get light much earlier than that,” came the reply.

She meant 4.30 am in the morning! Sunday morning!!

There are a few things that might coax me out of bed on a Sunday morning at 4 o’clock, but the opportunity to flog my rubbish to insomniac strangers for pennies is not one of them. I found another site which opened at a more reasonable 7.00 am, and decided to go there instead.

Over a period of a couple of days, we cobbled together quite an impressive collection of ‘refuse-in-waiting’ which was cluttering up various corners of the house and garage – books, CD’s, Toys, pottery, pictures, ornaments… you know the sort of thing. Rather handily, I also had 3 perfectly serviceable suitcases which were now surplus to requirements, following my wife’s most recent capitulation in the face of her serious luggage buying fetish. These would be excellent receptacles, to carry everything else, I decided. There was a flaw in this plan, which was only to come to light later.

Anyway, I crammed everything in to the car, set the alarm for 6.15 am, and come Sunday morning we set off for the sale site a few miles away, aiming to get there for 7.00 am. The roads were deserted and I half expected arriving to see a bloke in a luminous jacket standing in an empty field. But as we turned a corner, a whole new hidden world emerged. It was like everyone who wasn’t asleep had descended on this one spot. Another 5 minutes and we’d have been too late for a pitch.

I paid my £7 entrance fee to the man in the luminous jacket, (he was there – just in a much busier field than I’d imagined) parked up in one of the final two rows, and started unloading our crap…sorry, stock…onto the patio table I’d borrowed for the purpose. Apparently, a wallpaper pasting table is the de rigour piece of equipment for this job, but I don’t own one for pretty much the same reason that I don’t own a polar bear trap – I’m never going to use it.

As we started to unload the car, about half a dozen hobgoblin type characters emerged from nowhere, trying to find hidden gems ahead of the crowd. This was more than a little annoying, particularly when one of them tried to buy the folding chair we’d brought to sit on! I responded to their requests for prices with…”Fifty quid now, but it might be cheaper when we’ve GOT THE BLOODY STOCK OUT!” and this seemed to do the trick. Ten minutes later, we had a fully functioning…if very amateurish…car boot stall.

Now there was another flaw in my plan which I haven’t told you about yet. I don’t really like ‘outside’ and there was no doubt about it…this car boot sale was in a field. I’ve never been able to see the point of outside – why people get all excited about it. I mean, if you’re sitting in an air conditioned and heated building or car, you’re in control. You can have the light and temperature just as you want it. It won’t be windy and you won’t be bothered by insects. And you’ve got somewhere comfy to sit or lay down. You have a choice. I like it. But outside – well that’s a totally different kettle of fish.

You’re at the mercy of the weather for one thing. I’ve noticed there are all sorts of weather conditions, and here’s the point – there’s only one very specific combination of factors that make me happy…about 20 degrees centigrade, slightly overcast and with no wind. A bit like inside really. Anything else is just too hot, too cold, too bright, too dark, too wet, too windy, snowy or ‘too something’.

That Sunday morning fell into the ‘too hot’ category… The hottest day of the year, and definitely too hot to be standing in shade-free field for over 5 hours. I suspect we may have made considerably more money, had I not spent large parts of the morning sheltering under my Land Rover.

It wasn’t a complete financial disaster though…

First thing to go was the Guinea Pig cage. I almost didn’t bother taking the former home of the recently departed Henry. It was a big bulky thing, and I didn’t think it would sell. It shows what I know, because we could have sold it a dozen times. The bloke who bought it, left it to collect later and plenty of folk wanted to buy it in the meantime, including a 6’5” giant of a man who was practically in tears at having missed it! Emotions clearly run high at these events.

I’d taken my daughter along to experience a bit of haggling and negotiation, and one of the disappointing things early on, was that few people were prepared to give it a try. They asked for the price, we’d tell them, and then they’d walk away. Presumably they were interested in the item at some price, and if you’re asking £3 for it… how far apart can you be? One woman snorted indignantly when I had the audacity to ask £1 for a George Michael double album and stormed off! We looked at each other, both thinking the same thing…”How little did she expect to pay?”

I’d tutored my daughter in advance on some useful phrases to use when negotiating and faced with lowball offers (although she point blank refused to say “How much??? You’re ‘avin me eyes ahht!!!” in a mock cockney accent for some reason) but at this rate, it didn’t look like she was going to get to use any of it.

Thank goodness for the eastern Europeans then, who aren’t nearly so reticent.

A Kosovan bloke came along and expressed an interest in the suitcases. He called his wife over who was clearly the chief negotiator. Although she spoke virtually no English, she coped very well by simply knowing what half of the price was and then offering that for everything. I tried to defuse this with a bit of humour, but unsurprisingly this got a bit lost in the translation, and was met with “No, I give you £13”. We eventually reached agreement at £15, and they went happily on their way – but not before trying to buy a meat cleaver at a third of the price asked, whilst wielding it menacingly in my direction.

As they left with two suitcases, I couldn’t help pondering on this… before I’d left home that morning, I’d checked my company online orders for the weekend. They came to just over £20,000 (I wish – but for the sake of the story...). And yet there I was, standing in a roasting hot field at 9.00 am on a Sunday morning arguing with a Kosovan over a quid! Perhaps there’s a lesson there – often it’s not about the money, it’s about the winning. If you can find some way of letting the other side win, while getting the money…perhaps everyone wins.

Anyway, we were on a roll now. My daughter was getting involved in the sales process, skilfully splitting the difference with a lady who was trying to knock down the price on a globe, and adjusting the prices she was asking for things in response to the reaction she was getting from browsers. She was starting to realise that prices aren’t fixed, and that they depend on good old fashioned supply and demand. Things are worth exactly what people are prepared to pay.

The final suitcase went to a nice Asian lady, and a couple of dozen other items were snapped up for pennies in the pound. For some reason though, the dolls pushchair just wouldn’t sell. At least 10 people had come and looked at it, asked the price…a full £8…and then walked away. My daughter was becoming increasingly frustrated by this, but little did I know that when I left her on her own for a few minutes to peruse some of the delights available on some of the other stalls, (slightly used toilet seat anyone?) that she would resort to dirty tactics.

I returned to find her in conversation with a mother and 3 year old. It was clear that the child wanted the push chair, but the mum was reluctant to buy. Eventually, she gave in and the money was handed over.

“Well done” I said after they’d left, “How did you do that.”

“It was easy” she replied “I attracted the attention of the 3 year old while her mums back was turned, showed her the push chair and then let pester power do the rest.”

In just 2 weeks, she’d gone from being appalled at me asking for a discount in an antique shop, to blatantly targeting sneaky sales tactics at the under 5s. I didn’t know whether to be proud or ashamed!

The crowds thinned, and just when all right-thinking people were emerging from their Sunday morning lay in, it was time to go home. We’d made a grand total of £106.25, but learned lessons that were worth an awful lot more. 

Just one problem though…

We hadn’t sold everything – in fact we hadn’t sold half of it. And it had all arrived packed in the suitcases I’d sold to the intransigent Kosovan and her husband. I won’t dwell on the implication of having dozens of books, CD’s DVD’s , toys and other assorted paraphernalia floating loose in the back of a Land Rover as you weave your way home down country roads, but I’m sure you know what they are. Let’s just say that a detour via the dump would have been the most sensible option in retrospect.

As our remaining stock clattered from one side of the car to the other, father and daughter discussed what had been learned from the day.

It had been an interesting and educational morning, if tiring and not particularly lucrative. As we pulled up wearily on the drive, my wife met us at the car and peered inside. “Hmm, you’ve got quite a lot left,” she said, “Never mind, it will do for next time.”

I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry or set about her with the unsold meat cleaver!

CAR BOOTINGSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Quite a few years ago now, when my 10 year old suggested we should “get a tent and camp out in the garden”, the idea was met with a little less enthusiasm than she'd hoped for. You see, my last camping experience prior to this had not gone that well at all.

I was 18 then, and had travelled to the Lake District with three mates in a lime green Vauxhall Chevette weighed down with a small amount of camping gear and a large amount of beer. It rained all the way up there, and when we arrived at the camp site, it was waterlogged – but worse than that, it was full. We tried to turn around to leave, but the Chevette was going nowhere. It was well and truly stuck.

Now I don’t know whether you’ve ever tried to push a car out of a muddy field in the rain. If you have, then you’ll know what happened next, and if you haven’t – well you’ve probably seen it on countless episodes of You’ve Been Framed. Unfortunately, this was in the days before widespread video camera ownership and there was no opportunity to earn £200 for sharing our discomfort and distress with the nation.

I’m sure there are worse situations on a dark and rainy Friday night than being covered head to toe in wet mud, crammed into the back of a crappy hatchback with a bag of tent pegs stuck in your backside, but they are certainly outnumbered by the number of better ones. It was now too late to find another camp site and so we elected to park in a lay-by and pitch the tent right there.

After parking up, we unloaded the camping gear and remaining beer, and were just about to pitch the tent, when my mate Dave decided to move the car… and promptly backed straight over the tent and beer, smashing everything in his path. So there we were, no tent, no beer, soaked through, covered in mud and with the only option left being to sleep in the car. Having all consumed our fair share of cheap lager and a takeaway curry, I’m sure I don’t have to spell out the sort of night that was to follow.

I’ve never attempted to sleep under canvas since that night, and certainly didn’t relish the prospect of doing it now. “We haven’t got a tent”, was in retrospect a pretty weak attempt at getting out of it, and was quickly countered with “They’ve got a sale on them at Halfords.”


When we arrived at Halfords, they did indeed have a sale on, and everything looked surprisingly good value. I immediately gravitated towards the cheapest package available - a two-man tent with sleeping bags and floor mats for just £39.95. “This looks alright,” I said to a somewhat sceptical looking daughter, “it says it only takes five to ten minutes to put up.”

“Make that an hour for you then.” she said.

I’d have liked to reply with a witty riposte, or evidence to the contrary, but she knows me too well. Any attempt at rebuttal would have been met with a detailed recount of a catalogue of embarrassing incidents from the past (why do women remember everything you’ve ever done wrong?) and be thoroughly discredited at the moment of truth anyway.

“It might not be so bad.” I said.

All I got in return for that comment was a look. If you’re a bloke, and you have daughters, or indeed any women in your life, you’ll know the look I’m talking about.

So we bought the tent, but I was still clinging on to the hope of a reprieve. My thinking was that it could be several weeks before we got any decent weather, by which time my daughter would have either gone off the idea or forgotten about the tent altogether. When I got home, I deliberately hid the camping gear in a corner of the garage where it wouldn’t act as a reminder…

But the weather Gods were not on my side.

Within just a few days, cold miserable weather gave way to bright sunshine and 23 degrees centigrade. I knew what was coming and waited for the inevitable…


Don’t you know it’s trouble when the word is extended out like that?

All my excuses were used up. We had the tent, the weather was good and it was the weekend. A last minute reference to my bad back was simply ignored as a bluff. If only the DSS were so unyielding, the government could probably reduce income tax to 10p in the pound.

Erecting the tent went almost exactly as expected… Well, exactly as my daughter expected!

All I’ll say in my defence is that the instructions were extremely confusing and almost certainly for the wrong tent. I wanted to give up. She wouldn’t let me. I kicked the tent bag across the garden in frustration. She scolded me for being childish. I swore at it. She pretended not to hear.

When I look at it now, it seems almost inconceivable that it could take a grown man over an hour to put up a tent with only 3 parts to it, but you just had to be there. You really did.

Never mind. It was up now and I felt a little pang of pride.

“You did well there”, said my daughter, relieved that the whole affair hadn’t ended with me storming off as she’d witnessed on any number of other occasions in the past. And she was right. It looked for all the world like the sort of tent a proper Dad would put up.

I was relieved, but couldn’t help noticing that the tent wasn’t of the finest quality. It was made of 100% polyester for one thing, and it was small…. more ‘two midget’ size, than ‘two man’. And the sleeping bags? Well they appeared to have all the structural integrity and insulating properties of bin liners. The mats were the thickness of lino', but without the ‘give’.

I really wasn’t looking forward to this!

The dreaded hour was rapidly approaching and I decided that the best way to deal with this whole thing was on the outside of a bottle of red wine. Having woken up in the strangest of places while anaesthetised by strong drink in the past, I figured it would be equally effective in helping me sleep through this.

By the time we trekked out into the garden under cover of darkness I was nicely ‘relaxed’, but the daytime heat had given way to an ominous chill. Entering the tent, it was impossible to escape the conclusion that there was too much of me to fit in it. This was going to be a foetal experience!

We shuffled into our sleeping bags, and it was painfully apparent that they were definitely at the back of the queue when tog ratings were being handed out. I couldn’t help but wonder how many poor sods had bought their two-man tent and sleeping bag combo’ and set out on to the moors in the middle of January, only to be never seen or heard of again. This was late May in a sheltered garden, and even in the midst of summer, it wasn’t looking good.

But alcohol is a marvellous temporary discomfort suppresser though, and after listening to the nocturnal callings of a few late night drunks, I quickly drifted off to sleep and my daughter did the same.

I woke… cramped up and frozen stiff. It was still dark. The sleeping bag felt like one of those sleeves you put on bottles of white wine to keep them cool….only much colder.

“Are you awake?” I said to my daughter, sensing that she was.

“Yes” came the reply.

“Are you cold?” I asked.

“Course I bloomin’ well am!” she replied, like it was the most stupid question in the world.

I looked up and saw something on the tent canvas (or should that be polyester?) illuminated by the garden lights.

“Look,” I said, "there’s moisture on the outside of the tent. Can you see the water?”

“That’s not on the outside,” she said, "it’s on the inside and it’s just dripped on my head!”

I reached up to the side of the tent and it was like someone had taken a hose pipe to it. We’d made the fundamental mistake of breathing inside the tent - something Halfords clearly hadn’t taken into account of, when they designed it.

“Shall we go inside?” I ventured.

“Let’s!” was the reply I was relieved to hear.

It was half past two in the morning. The camping trip had lasted just three and a half hours.

As we dashed to the luxury of a nice warm bed, giggling like idiots, my daughter turned to me in mock disgust…

“We’ve been had Dad…we’ve been had!”

But had we really?

You see, I was at the time and still am a grown-up – chronologically at least. As such, unlike, an increasing proportion of the population, I don’t seek to blame someone else when purchases don’t turn out as well as I might like. When I buy a product, I take full responsibility for the consequences of the ‘informed’ decisions I made to do so.

Looking at the product in the shop, any sane person could see that the whole package was no bigger or heavier than the average gym bag, and that the price would put severe restrictions on the quality. My expectations were not that high in the first place – and they were fully met. Anyone thinking otherwise would simply be conning themselves.

But I didn’t really care…

You see, while I might happily (well maybe ‘happily’ isn’t the right word) spend the price of a house on a car and the price of a car on a wristwatch, I wasn’t prepared to pay the price of a decent meal for two on a full camping ensemble. And that was because in my mind, I had a low grade need for the product, and hence a low level of involvement or interest in the purchase. So I only had myself to blame.

THE GREAT OUTDOORSSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

"Hello, good evening and bollocks."

Many hundreds of years ago, when dinosaurs wandered the Earth and I was in my youth, I would sometimes read Viz magazine. And one of my favourite characters was “Roger Mellie - The Man Off The Telly”. I’m not sure whether you’re familiar with Roger, but he was a TV presenter who would approach his producer, Tom, every issue with increasingly bizarre and offensive ideas for new programmes.

It’s a long time since I saw a copy of Viz magazine, and I’ve no idea if Roger is still around, but my guess is that he’s probably been made redundant – or at least had to change his act.

Picture the scene now…in 2010. Roger is having a meeting with Tom.

“Tom, I’ve got a great idea for a new show. What we do is get a load of deadbeats, crackheads and idiots… we’ll even throw in some people with genuine mental health problems for good measure… stick ‘em in a house for 3 months, and then watch and see what happens. We can even psychologically profile ‘em so they’re guaranteed to hate each other’s guts. Something’s bound to kick off.”

Tom looks weary “Sorry Roger, it’s already been done. Isn’t Davina lovely in Big Brother?”

“What? Okay how about this one then. We get a mini bus full of washed up sports stars, ex-soap actors and various out of work Z list entertainers, ship ‘em out into the jungle somewhere and get ‘em to eat a dead Kangaroo’s cock. It’ll be great.”

Tom’s starting to feel sorry for Roger now “Sorry mate, you’re way behind the times. Biggins and Pasqualle have got panto sown up for the next ten years on the back of that 'I’m a Celebrity' programme.”

“Okay, okay, here’s my real winner. We get a footballer’s bird… you know what they’re like, they’ll do anything for money… and wait for it… we get her to toss off a pig for the cameras. It’s a winner.”

Tom’s had enough now. “Have you never heard of Rebecca Loos, Roger? Here, let YouTube remind you http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fNb5ZPsNGzc

The amazing thing is that if you go back 15 years or so, these are precisely the sort of ideas Roger Mellie would have been coming up with. It was all very funny back then, but I’m not sure how funny it is now we have to endure it. It was supposed to be a joke, not a prediction. In the good old days, we had successful entertainers to entertain us but now, we seem to be doing it all ourselves and in ever increasing doses.

Being a TV producer must be pretty easy these days. If you can’t come up with a ‘killer’ idea like one of the above, there’s a very simple formula guaranteed to create a one hour programme for prime time TV. Here it is…

Get a piece of paper and write down the word ‘Britain’s’ 20 times down the left hand side. Now…photocopy this page, because you’re going to need lots of copies.

Next after the word ‘Britain’s’, you write a superlative adjective… and after that a plural noun. This simple formula will create more ‘hot’ programme ideas than you can use in a hundred careers.


Okay, let me give a few examples to bring this to life for you:

Britain’s Ugliest Grannies
Britain’s Funniest Undertakers
Britain’s Hairiest Babies
Britain’s Fattest Vegetarians
Britain’s Youngest Alcoholics
Britain’s Oldest Skateboarders
Britain’s Strongest Lesbians
Britain’s Meanest Millionaires
Britain’s Tallest Dwarves
Britain’s Richest Tramps
Britain’s Biggest Beer Guts
Britain’s Thickest Teachers
Britain’s Loudest Farters

…Get the idea? The number of alternative options is almost infinite.

Go on, admit it, you wouldn’t be too surprised to see one or more of those in the TV schedules. You may have even looked at the list and thought “Hmmm…wouldn’t mind seeing that one.” Like me, you may even harbour an inkling that they might have made a couple of them already. (Britain's funniest animals).

And this is what passes for mainstream TV in 2010.

So should we care… does it really matter?

It’s well accepted now that we become what we think about. I don’t know who first said it… it may have been Napoleon Hill… but the link between thoughts and outcomes is pretty well established. The way our life pans out usually starts in the mind. It’s only later that we convert those thoughts into actions that create outcomes.

It’s also well accepted that as a society, we’re watching more and more TV than ever before – and I think we all know how the quality and nature of that TV has changed in recent years.

So if we’re watching this ‘quality’ TV, we must be thinking about it. And if we become what we think about… well that’s a little worrying. In computing, they have an acronym – GIGO… Garbage In - Garbage Out. I think that applies here.

At the very least I think we should all question whether we’ve subliminally accepted that the collection of crackpots, desperado’s and misfits that make up the participants in mainstream TV constitute ‘normality', and whether we’ve become comfortable with the idea that no amount of degradation or humiliation is too much, just so long as it brings with it a fleeting slug of fame or fortune.

I can only write about this crap because I’m as guilty of watching my fair share, as perhaps you are. But at least now I’ve consciously thought about it, I’ll be more aware of the potential hazards… more aware that this isn’t really what I want to become.

I hope you feel the same way. Now where’s the remote?

TODAY'S TVSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

My mum looked a little confused when I visited her the other day. No, she did recognise me and she still remembers my name. She handed me a catalogue that had been pushed through her letterbox. 

In case you don’t know, Betterware is a company that sells household goods door to door, by way of a catalogue dropped off and picked up by agents. Betterware, Kleeneze and Avon all work in the same fashion. On the top of the catalogue were scrawled four hand-written words.

“I can see it says ‘Will pick up…’” said my mum, “but what’s that last word?”

The word was ‘2MOZ’.

Now you may or may not know that 2MOZ is text shorthand for tomorrow, but what you need to know is that this sort of thing is marketing suicide. I’ll tell you why in a moment, but first I can’t resist a short diversion to one of my pet hates (What do you mean, ‘another one!’?”)

I have to own up and say that I haven’t totally embraced the text messaging method of communication. I just don’t have the thumbs for it. Send me an email, and you could easily get a 500 word reply, but send me a text, (and you won’t - because only 6 people in the entire world have my mobile number and you’re not one of them) and you’ll get one of two things…

Either a Yes or No answer, if appropriate… or nothing at all.

Just ring me if you’ve got something to say, or bugger off and bother someone else with it. I’ve shared this viewpoint with most people I know (now you’ll begin to realise why when my phone pings a text alert, it’s either a wrong number or a sim card update from my operator) and the typical response is “Ah, but it might not be convenient to take a phone call. A text isn’t intrusive and you can deal with it when you’re free.”

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you why this is absolute cobblers - but I will!

One of modern life’s greatest irritations and annoyances is when you’re in a social situation… maybe in a restaurant or bar with someone, having a conversation… and their phone pings a text alert. Rather than do the polite thing and ignore it (or switch the dammed thing off altogether) they pick up the phone and view the message immediately Maybe they give a little smile, and then they proceed to reply to the message… ignoring you, and everyone else in the room.

In rudeness terms, I’d suggest this is on a par with farting in a lift and then getting out at the next floor.

What are these people effectively saying when they do this? (The texting not the farting.)…

“Yes, I’m here with you now, but I have a far more interesting and important life elsewhere. It’s a life you’re not a part of. I’ve just received a message from that life that is far more interesting and important than anything you might have to say. You just hang around like a spare part for the next few minutes, while I relieve the tedium of having to speak to you by engaging in a far more fulfilling discourse. When I’ve finished, I may well decide to fill the void between then and my next text message by talking to you again.”

For that very reason, I’m contemplating taking a golf club out with me in future, which I will produce with a flourish as they start texting. When they ask what I’m doing, I’ll just say that I thought I’d practice my swing while I’m waiting. If they don’t get the message, I can smash their bloody phone up with the club!

Sorry, I got a bit carried away there then… where was I… ah yes, 2MOZ on the Betterware catalogue.

One of the most important factors in effective marketing is to create a real connection with your potential customers. We are usually most comfortable buying from someone who thinks like we do… someone who’s like we are. Language plays a vital part in creating a connection - creating empathy.

Jargon and slang can play a part in doing that… only if the audience is right. Whoever scrawled 2MOZ on that catalogue couldn’t have got it more wrong though. The market for Betterware products is for typically older people. Not only are they likely to be turned off by text language… regarding it as sloppy and lazy (do you really want to buy products from someone you perceive to be sloppy and lazy?)… Or just like my mum, they might not even understand it.

To quote her when I told her what it meant… ”Bloody idiot!”

TEXTING TEXTINGSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

I've just read yet another newspaper article about the threat of global warming. And last night on TV. Al Gore was warning that it's probably not worth taking out a pension because we'll all have fried or starved or drowned (or something!) long before our 65th birthday. When I was a boy, we were given the threat of nuclear obliteration to keep us awake at night. Now that threat has all-but passed, I suppose they had to find something else to stop us enjoying ourselves.

We're now expected to pay rapt attention to our carbon foot prints, and encouraged to feel guilty if we book a week in Tenerife or drive something which goes faster than we can run.

To be honest, I haven't paid a great deal of attention to of any of it until now - partly because I'm terminally selfish, partly because the scientists don't seem to agree on anything (more about that later) and partly because history shows that climate change is an endemic feature of the planet. Just a few hundred years ago for instance, they were growing grapes on Hadrian’s Wall, but I don't recall reading about any thrice-daily Easyjet flights to Malaga back then.

Why try to mess with the natural order of things
when you don't REALLY know what you're doing?

Anyway, just recently I had a slight change of heart. I decided it was time I did 'my bit'. The motor car is always put forward as one of the main villains of the piece, and so that's where I figured I could make an impact. Big gas guzzling, Carbon Dioxide spewing cars have always been a bit of a passion of mine, but there are wider issues at stake here. Sacrifices have to be made. And so what I decided to do was...

Buy a small fleet of them!

I know what you're thinking - that wouldn't have been your first thought. But that's conventional-wisdom style thinking. What we need to do here is think laterally, outside of the box, and when we do, we find that the more gas guzzlers I can buy, the better.

Let me explain.

I hardly ever buy new cars - not because I can't afford it, but because I don't like the depreciation. So this fleet of cars I'm going to buy will be second hand; there will be no extra new greenhouse gasses created to manufacture them.

But it gets better.

You see, I can only drive one car at a time. So before my timely intervention, these cars were all in the hands of separate owners, all driving and using them regularly. But now they're all sitting in my garage doing nobody any harm, only ever affecting the environment one at a time.

To take this idea to its ultimate conclusion, if I could buy every high carbon emitting vehicle in the country, the environment would be all the better for it. I know that people who sell these cars almost invariably go on to buy something cheaper, more economical, and cleaner (having had their 'fix') so the net effect would be massively positive.

I should get a knighthood at least, I'm sure you'll agree...

And yet I can bet there will still be some unwashed, 'swampy' type hurling abuse from the bus stop as I glide past in a Bentley or a big V12 Aston...doing my bit for the atmosphere. I'll get no thanks from the masses - I just know it.

I'd just got my plan in place, and started thumbing through my back copies of 'Flash Cars For Rich Selfish Bastids Monthly' when I heard a piece of news which renders my plans redundant...

Because it seems that walking does more
harm to the environment than driving.

No, I didn't believe it either when I first read it. My first thought was that it must be a quote from some crank scientist sponsored by the motor industry or Jeremy Clarkson. But no, it actually comes from a leading environmentalist, Chris Goodall, a campaigning author and Green Party Parliamentary candidate. The logic and numbers make fascinating reading...

Driving a typical UK car for 3 miles adds about 0.9kg of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. If you walked instead, you would use about 180 calories, and you'd need to eat about 100g of beef to replace those calories. And producing that Beef will result in 3.6kg of carbon dioxide emissions. That's 4 times as much as driving.

Now I know not everyone will replace those lost calories with beef, but the point is well made. Even if you replaced the calories by drinking milk, the emissions are still significantly higher, and whatever you eat, there will be an environmental cost - often higher than that from the car!

To quote Goodall...

"The troubling fact is that taking a lot of exercise and then eating a bit more food is not good for the global atmosphere. Eating less and driving to save energy would be better."

He believes (and remember his agenda is an environmental one, not a business or industry one) that food production is a far more important danger than transport, and yet there is no publicity about it.

So why have big cars and aeroplanes become the pariahs while other sources of environmental damage (if you accept that damage is indeed caused) get away scot free?

Well it won't surprise you to learn that envy, class
and money are where the hidden agenda lies.

I recently heard a 'Swampy-ess' being interviewed on local radio. She was on her way to Heathrow to protest against the opening of the new runway at Heathrow on environmental grounds. It was a Wednesday, so she was probably using up her annual holiday from work. I'm sure that's what it would be.

Anyway, part way through the interview she let the cat out of the bag by saying that the problem was being caused by 'the rich' taking lots of flights. This is total baloney of course. I suppose it depends on your definition of rich (this lady may consider anyone to be rich who actually works for a living rather than collecting a Giro once a fortnight) but the rise in air travel is a result of 'the poor' getting access to cheap fares. The 'rich' are pretty thin on the ground and have always flown a lot. The poor are far more plentiful, and their access to regular air travel they can afford, is a more recent phenomenon. Aside from being nonsense though, it shows where the agenda is rooted...

In a desire to stamp out any perceived privilege.

It's the same thing with high emissions cars. Owners tend to be enthusiasts. They don't use them every day (You can only drive one at a time remember) and have something smaller and economical for day to day use. And in any event, the huge cost ensures that they're few and far between and therefore not much of a threat in the overall scheme of things.

But that doesn't matter. They're a sign of wealth and achievement, and therefore fair game to be beaten severely with the environmental stick.

And so we have a situation where an undoubtedly serious issue is hijacked by those with a dubious agenda for their own ends.

The truth is that nobody really knows for sure whether the rise in global temperatures over the last few years is a 'blip' on a very long statistical curve, a systemic change caused by the sort of natural forces that have caused temperature changes in the past, or something new created by the activity of man. And if it's the latter, there's no real agreement or proven knowledge as to where the blame lies, and what needs to be done.

But the media need heroes and villains, they need drama. They need black and white because the masses have a problem coping with grey. They won't buy grey. And they need poor people to buy their newspapers and watch their TV shows. There simply aren't enough rich people to go around. And so they wheel out a succession of 'experts', each with their own vested interest prepared to give them a version of black and white to suit their own personal agendas...

Meanwhile, you and I are pressurised in to feeling guilty for doing things which in all likelihood, are having no significant effect - and maybe no effect at all.

I'm not suggesting for one second that I know what's going on, but what I am suggesting is that if anyone else does, their voice is being lost in a sea of spin, applied vested interest, half truth and downright lies. What comes out the other end is not a close approximation to the facts, it's a manifestation of the opinions views and agendas of those who can shout the loudest.

And the loudest shouts of all come through the mass media...

The purpose of this rant (yes there is one!) isn't to persuade you in favour of one argument or another with regard to global warming. As I've hopefully made clear, I don't have any knowledge beyond the conflicting views both you and I have been exposed to. No, the purpose is to encourage you to question closely where 'your' opinions are routed on the important issues that affect your life. Are they routed in your own research, study and knowledge - or are they little more than a collection of 'sound bites' cobbled together from what the mass media have tossed in your direction?

And if it's the latter, consider this...

How valid and worthwhile do you think those opinions are...shaped as they are, by people who only deal in black and white? Have you ever met a mass media journalist - the people responsible for shaping the opinions of people too idle or incapable to do it themselves? If you had, I think you'd think very hard before taking anything they write seriously.

Have you ever had first-hand knowledge of any story that's been covered by the mass media? I have, on a number of occasions (the first being at age 14 when a teacher in a Geography class I was in got burned by acid left on her chair - no it wasn't me!) and without exception the story has been incorrect in either thrust or detail - and usually both. No matter how simple the story, or how easy the facts were to check, they got it wrong. Often spectacularly wrong.

So if they can't even manage to get the facts right when they're there for the collection, what chance do you think they have when they're far less clear... when there are complex factors to unravel?

Now overlay that with vested interest, political slant and the undoubted pressure to 'sell' the media - whether that be newspapers, magazines or TV shows - and I think you can see that the end product is likely to bear little relation to reality. And it certainly isn't something we should be using to shape our own views and opinions.

Very few of us are immune to this influence though because it's all-pervading. Most of us don't consciously question where our views and opinions have come from. They're just OUR views. But I hope I've given you at least cause to question exactly why you feel the way you do on particular issues - whether that be environmental, political, social or personal.

When you do, I think you'll find yourself at least putting your views and opinions 'on hold' until you have further information, and maybe rejecting them altogether.

P.S Here are some more views and opinions on environmental change which you won't necessarily see heavily pushed in the mass media, but are worth considering when reaching your own conclusions
*The rail safety and standards board recently admitted that catching a train is now twice as polluting as travelling by car for the average family.
*Paper bags are worse for the environment than plastic because of the extra energy needed to manufacture and transport them.
*Disposable nappies are no more harmful to the environment than traditional nappies according to the environment agency. While disposables constitute 0.1% of landfill waste, the cloth variety are a waste of energy, clean water and detergent.
*Diesel trains in rural Britain are more polluting than 4X4 vehicles according to former Transport Secretary, Douglas Alexander.
*Organic dairy cows are worse for the environment than non-organic ones. Their methane emissions per litre of milk are significantly higher.
*German scientists have discovered that trees, regarded as a shield against global warming because they absorb carbon, are major producers of methane, a much more harmful greenhouse gas.
*There is no agreement among scientists on the extent of global warming. Some believe it to be grossly exaggerated because of false readings created by local heat retention caused by urban sprawl.
*The benefits of warming are often ignored. In the UK alone for example, every mild winter saves up to 20,000 cold related deaths.
*Data taken from ice core samples shows that temperatures have risen in the past by many times the current rate, and then fallen back in the space of a human lifetime.
*Carbon Dioxide levels in the atmosphere have been much higher in the past than they are today – and without the man made interventions which are said to be responsible for the current levels.
*Less than 1% of carbon dioxide emissions on the planet comes from fuel to move vehicles…cars, trains, aeroplanes etc.
*Many scientists believe the generally perceived causal relationship between carbon dioxide levels and rises in global temperatures is wrong. Evidence from ice core samples suggests that rises in carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have always followed warming rather than preceded it – meaning that the causal relationship may actually be reversed.

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Its my own fault really, its all about what I see in the world, and how it all translates for me.

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