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

The Group of Twenty (G20) is the premier forum for its members’ international economic cooperation and decision-making processes. Its membership comprises 19 countries plus the European Union. Each G20 president invites several guest countries each year.

The G20 leaders meet annually and in addition, Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors meet regularly during the year to discuss ways to strengthen the global economy, reform international financial institutions, improve financial regulation and implement the key economic reforms that are needed in each member economy. Underpinning these meetings is a year-long program of meetings among senior officials and of working groups coordinating policy on specific issues.

The G20 started in 1999 as a meeting of Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors in the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis. In 2008, the first G20 Leaders' Summit was held, and the group played a key role in responding to the global financial crisis. Its decisive and coordinated actions boosted consumer and business confidence and supported the first stages of economic recovery. G20 leaders have met eight times since 2008.

Apparently the G20 is an apt model for global cooperation in today’s world. Its response to the global financial crisis is a testament to the impact G20 members can make when working together. The G20 introduced trillions of dollars in fiscal stimulus packages (at a cost no doubt)  worldwide, which saved or created millions of jobs that would otherwise have been destroyed. It also put in place measures to limit the collapse of financial markets and helped maintain consumer and business confidence.

How very noble of them I say, but are they really as good as the blurb suggests? Yes they averted a financial crisis, but did we see any of the benefits? The banks did. They were bailed out at the expense of the tax payers and while some of the more dubious of the banking practices were shut down, very little has changed regarding the status quo for the man in the street. He’s the guy that has borne the brunt of any changes made while the banks have been left to carry on regardless in their pursuit of making huge profits by any means possible. But what do I know?

The official line reflects that over the past five years, the G20 has framed the world’s efforts to restore growth and build the resilience of financial institutions and national economies. It led the world out of an economic crisis and through the initial stages of the recovery. And with the world now free from immediate economic crisis, the G20 can increasingly shift its attention to driving practical actions that will lead to sustained global growth. Oh goody, let’s create a war, that’s always good for business no doubt.

The challenges that now confront the global economy are less pressing and urgent than those faced at the height of the global financial crisis but they are no less important. But never mind eh? We are all after all; eternally grateful for the opportunity to endure higher taxes and a lot less value for our money in as far as public services go.

In 2014, the global economy continues to produce far less than it would have if the crisis had not occurred; there are tens of millions fewer jobs and global trade growth is still too slow. While always remaining vigilant to risks and vulnerabilities, the G20 is now more focused on improving the future of the global economy, without any foreseeable changes to the lowering of living standards for the man in the street.

Let’s face it guys, The G20 is supported by international organisations, including the Financial Stability Board, the International Labour Organisation, the International Monetary Fund, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the United Nations, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization. All the key players in the pursuit of profit for their investors with very little thought for the people their policies will ultimately affect. These and several other organisations are invited to attend key G20 meetings. The G20 committed in its Fifth Anniversary Vision Statement to listen carefully to institutions and countries (yes institutions and countries, not the people left struggling to make ends meet) which are not in the group. Accordingly, Australia continues to work with non-members to develop international understanding of the G20’s 2014 agenda, to promote the agenda's benefits to the global economy and to seek views and input.

So much so that all the common man in Australia gets to hear about is all about the anti-terrorism measures we have put in place. Really? Mr, Prime Minister, Abbott? If the G20 were as good as you would have us all believe, shouldn’t you be preparing street parties instead? Something really isn’t adding up here? Are you so insecure about your electorate (a usually happy go lucky kind of people by all accounts), that we have to be subjected to daily displays of war planes and military helicopters flying in formation over the skies of Brisbane?

I mean, in a world where a meagre $30 billion would be sufficient to feed, clothe and house a (much happier because of it) global population of 8 billion, why does the need still exist for defence budgets running into the $400 billions? Why hasn’t the G20 pledged their efforts towards the more obvious savings to be made in this direction rather than looking into future methods of driving the populace into further hardship and therefore reluctant servitude? Why were the instigators of the last GFC not taken to task and still allowed to retire on pensions and bonuses higher than the GDP of some of our present third world neighbouring countries?

Amid the 1980s, the word quango was repeatedly bandied around as the UK press went to town on the wasteful, non productive and highly expensive foreign excursions of government officials that were exposed and shut down on a near daily basis. Isn’t the current G20 just another instance of the same old, same old happening again? World leaders having a right old jolly up while giving very little if anything back in return? Isn’t it just a collection of the largest of financial institutions, set up to further the political agendas of their corporate backers, bullying the small guy (or countries) into policies that nobody really needs or wants? I for one think that it is and I’m sure I’m not alone in the way I'm thinking.

We’ve seen it all before Mr Abbott. Before the G20, it was the annual meetings of the (relevant to my last post about name changes) Bilderburgers. They wore pretty much the same political hats back in their day and where did they ever get us? So, isn’t it time to actually start doing your doing for the people who count for human rather than stock-market values? 

You don’t have to answer that Mr Abbott; I already know what the outcome of this shambolic gathering will bring us. Your only job now, is to prove me wrong. But I won’t be holding my breath.

THE G20SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Does anybody in the room remember Windscale? It was a nuclear power station mid Cumbria that had what we could call ‘a bit of a meltdown’ and subsequently got itself a bad name.

In the wake of World War II, the United States government enacted a legislation which prohibited any other nations from receiving the scientific bounty derived from the Manhattan Project (their dabbling into nuclear). This meant that despite the participation of British scientists in the project, Britain was to receive none of the benefits of their research. And the year after the United States' first successful nuclear bomb test in the July of 1945, the British government decided that they must now go it alone and develop a nuclear program of their own in order to maintain their position as a world power. This pilot project eventually developed into the Windscale Nuclear plant. OK?

Alas in October 1957, after several years of already successful operation, the workers at the Windscale plant noticed some rather curious readings from their temperature monitoring equipment as they carried out what should have been standard maintenance. It appeared that the reactor temperature was slowly rising during a time that they expected it to be falling. The remote detection equipment seemed to be malfunctioning (or maybe they were now in the wrong place for the plant’s change of purpose), so two plant workers donned protective equipment and hiked to the reactor to inspect it in person. When they arrived, they were rather alarmed to discover that the whole interior of the uranium-filled reactor was ablaze.

The fire was the worst nuclear accident in Great Britain's history, ranked in severity at a level 5 on the 7-point International Nuclear Event Scale. The two nuclear piles there had been hurriedly built as part of the British atomic bomb project. The accident occurred when the core of the Unit 1 nuclear reactor at the nuclear plant caught fire, releasing substantial amounts of radioactive contamination into the surrounding areas. The fire burned for three days and there was a release of radioactive material that spread across the whole UK and parts of Europe.

Well that was back then and it was always a big ask for people to forgive and forget and at the same time carry on regardless but nonetheless, that’s how the story sort of went, amidst further failures, leakages, and a whole shitload of bad publicity along the way.

The marketing people finally solved the worsening Windscale problem by renaming the now fast breeder reactor plant ‘Sellafield’ while at the same time slapping a visitor centre alongside it, and everyone thought it was all of a sudden, a different, new and improved nuclear power station and the whole fear of nuclear disaster went away forever... so to speak.

And since that day on, renaming any failing institution is now deemed 
the best way to improve things... and it is also by far the cheapest, 
so it's a win-win situation all round!

The proof of this can be seen within the UK education system. In fact my old school Roger Carter Secondary Modern (name changed to prevent being sued), which was always a bit crap, was renamed (again but this time for the sake of the story) Carter Community School (specialising in SPORT, so don't worry about Maths and English and stuff like that, everyone's going for gold here!), and is now only the TENTH worst school in Britain! Hoorah!

Mind you, our old rivals Raquel’s Welch have been renamed (again and again for the same reasons as previously highlighted) TWICE! First as Rossmore Community College and now as the St Abacus Academy, and THEY'VE just been awarded the prestigious ‘worst school in Britain’ award for their efforts, so I don't know what happened there?

According to the local journalistic rag:

Just three percent of pupils leaving the St Abacus Academy last summer scored the benchmark of five A- C GCSE grades, including English and maths. That’s a drop of 11 places in a year for the former Rossmore Community College, taken over by new sponsors; the Boffin University in September 2013 in a bid to raise standards. Today the Education committee has demanded urgent improvements at the school and action from the sponsors to boot. It has also offered to help the school. Yes, and probably because the one town now has two schools in the country’s worst ten!

Is it social deprivation to blame? Well not really, we’re talking about quite an affluent area without the unemployment desolation of the (grim up north) North East or the inner-urban blight of many major cities. It's not even racial, as most of the kids are predominantly white, and in fact it's the sort of area that white supremacists might even move to. (Most of the racism I witnessed as a kid came from the emigres from London and the Midlands).

No, it's actually all about the success of the local Grammar Schools. You see the area never tolerated the country wide move to Comprehensive schooling, and stuck to the old two-tier education system, where the children of the middle-classes and the brightest of the lower orders were prioritised into the Grammar schools for a proper education, whilst the rest of us were basically abandoned or put on hold until they're old enough to work for fast food outlets, go onto the dodgiest of building sites or enter the prison system (assuming they hadn’t all got high on heavy drugs or pregnant beforehand). And until it's recognised as a problem solely derived from SOCIAL attitudes towards working class children, I'm afraid the problem will persist unchallenged.

Now if you could just excuse me a moment, for my mind has gone blank... Oh yes, I had a question for you. Is there a name for this sort of thing or did they change it already?

WHAT'S IN A NAME?SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Did you know that it is commonly perceived that Neil Armstrong’s first words on the moon surface were “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”? 

Well I'm sorry dear readers because what he actually said was “Wild Thing, you make my heart sing, you make everything — groovy”.
However, the watching millions back home were permanently denied this version of events following the discovery, just moments before air-time, that NASA’s entertainment officer had in fact forgotten to pay their performance rights licence fees, and so, in the face of the day’s copyright legislation, the “one small step” speech had to be quickly dubbed over instead.

On his return from his interplanetary exploits, the outraged Mr. Armstrong immediately left the space programme in disgust, and, after a brief spell with The Allman Brothers, settled back in Wapakoneta Ohio where he soon opened up ‘Neil’s Moon Shack’, a used guitar store, trading until the late ’80s when the market began to mysteriously decline. “I don’t blame synthesizers” said Neil rather amicably, “I think it was The Cure that were ultimately responsible. Young folk mistakenly came to associate the guitar with fat, mascara’d English panty-waists, and chose to follow Rap instead. And I can’t say I can particularly blame them.”

The ‘Performance Rights Licence Fiasco’ wasn’t the only misfortune to befall the Apollo 11 mission either. Irish rebel leader Michael Collins was seen to be left stranded in the orbiting mother capsule following an undisclosed dispute with NASA tailors, Ritblat & Son of Dallas, who deliberately withheld the Third Moon Suit pending the payment of the previously “agreed remuneration”. NASA never did settle the bill, and although the Ritblats retained the Third Moon Suit for their own purposes, the original sequins were subsequently removed, and later reappeared upon Elvis Presley’s Vegas jump suit.

Apollo 11 was not alone in their ‘Space Suit-Related Ructions’. On the following mission, Apollo 12 astronaut Charles Conrad Jr was to discover that, for the sake of just $5, Mrs Aldrin had declined the dry-clean option, and had in fact put her husband’s Moon Suit “in with the whites” at home (Tumble dried at 200 degrees Fahrenheit), thus irreversibly reducing the ill-befallen overalls in size. Consequently, during mid-mission on the moon, on stooping to collect various intergalactic geological samples, Conrad inadvertently split the ass out of the pants of his suit, (hence the verb ‘To Moon’). 

This instantaneously curtailed the whole mission as a television event for the viewers back home on Earth, as sponsors across the South, in fear of losing their hard gained family support, clamoured to withdraw all their funding. “It was like one of them Mexican films!” said one. And Charles Conrad Jr. never worked again because of it.

Thus, with the NASA space program now reduced to only one remaining space-suit, the Apollo 13 mission was to have featured only the lone Captain Jim Lovell walking on the moon; yet even this mission was to be dogged with misfortune as rookie pilot Kevin Bacon, (at the request of a rapidly balding, ginger haired director of operations best known for ‘happier days’) attempted to jettison human waste products from the ship. He keyed into the onboard computer a completely wrong sequence, and unwittingly occasioned a ‘blow-back situation’, while helplessly watching in horror as his colleagues were sprayed with ‘the living daylights’ within the confines of the inside of the capsule.

Desperate to make amends and somewhat rather foolishly, Bacon bravely ventured to alleviate the on-board methane levels with a naked flame, only to bring about a catastrophic explosion which effectively ended the whole mission; not to mention his career in space! (Tragically and perhaps quite poetically, Lovell never returned to the moon, yet managed to eke out a living promoting organic fertilizer in Texas, before becoming a ride technician at Disney’s Space Mountain.)

And so, completely suit-less now, and totally out of contract with RCA records, the 1960s ended quite bleakly for the American space program and NASA, who were to find that the 1970s, and the onset of Disco in particular, had become increasingly more difficult for them to handle.

Cue Micheal Jackson...

MOON WALKINGSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Captain Bruce Dickinson
Do you remember the days when we were all amused to discover that Rolling Stones bass player Bill Wyman had acquired himself a hobby in the form of metal detecting? The thought of a Rock Star supplementing their excessive lifestyle with such a mundane pastime seemed at best, faintly ridiculous. 

However, those of us that sat through the news coverage regarding the collapse of the UK XL travel group back in the mid 2000’s, will have witnessed the spectacle of Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson being interviewed in his capacity as commercial airline pilot, describing how he and his employers were about to take part in the global 'air-lift' in bringing the stranded tourists home from Sharm-el-Sheik in Egypt and The Greek island of Kos!

And very smart he looked too, in his uniform and cap, and there was not a skull in sight! Although Bruce describes his second occupation as a hobby, he's wrong, it's a job. And a highly qualified, highly paid job with enormous responsibility at that.

And it doesn't stop there. Remember Skunk Baxter? He was the guy playing lead guitar on Steely Dan's 'Reeling in the years' and played on their first three albums before moving on to the Doobie Brothers. A virtuoso, and former sidekick of Jimi Hendrix, he built himself a sterling reputation as a major session axeman from the seventies onwards and was the “epitome stoned cool.” 

Well, how times have changed! These days Skunk is better known as a US government weapons specialist! Seems he got himself a whole other job working for the main man!

Meanwhile, over in the beau-monde, Red or Dead designer Wayne Hemingway has been moonlighting as an urban planner! Better known as the son of Native American wrestling hero Billy Two Rivers, Hemingway, like Skunk, has become a government advisor, in this case on housing and urban development!

Now, I'm not putting these guys down, they have after all, gained a solid reputation in two different careers, whereas I've yet to manage even one, but I'm of the generation that believed in a popular culture that was opposed to the establishment, and existed solely to question the status quo (or even Status Quo come to think about it). Yes, it may not have been a real rebellion, but it felt like one at least, and you were sufficiently reassured that all your heroes, when not rocking and cutting a dash, were out there debauching themselves in the decadent underworld of louche living.

I am therefore sad to announce I am not fully equipped for a 'brave new world' where the ‘rebellion's’ role models all have day jobs supporting the very channels they once took pride in debunking.

ROLE MODELSSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

I once caught my thumb between a stationary 4 inch nail and a rapidly moving hammer head. And after a black-nailed sleepless night, and an un-remittent day of a throbbing swollen digit, I returned home to my shared house where I relayed my plight to Jade, she was a newly qualified doctor.

"Oh, you need to go to the hospital to get your nail pierced!" She advised, in her alluring Scottish accent (Before the invention of the Indian practitioner, all British doctors were once Scottish for some reason. I think it was the law or something), "That will release the pressure." But then she said "Or, I can do it for you now if you want?"

Now, two things: 

First off, I was in pain, and could not bear the thought of a four-hour wait in casualty with all the junkies and the drunks for company.

And second, apart from her sultry-yet-authoritative accent, Jade was possibly the most sexually attractive woman I have ever shared a confined space with and this day, we were talking about a very small kitchen here. A very confined space indeed.

So obviously, "Yes" I heard myself reply only too eagerly, and expected her to go fetch a doctor's bag, although I had never actually seen her with one, I just assumed doctors were issued with them as soon as they qualified.

Well imagine my dismay as she just turned and began to rummage around the adjacent kitchen drawers, searching amongst all of our accumulated crap until she uttered an "Aha!" and turned towards me holding aloft a paperclip!

"Right!" she enthused, "let me just get the gas on!" 

At this she then seemed to sense my apparent dismay, and began to reassure me with a description of the procedure that she had in mind for my only reason for being at the top of the food chain, my opposing thumb:

"I'm going to heat the paperclip until it's red hot, and then I'm going to burn (melt) a hole through your nail to relieve the pressure of the blood building up behind it!" she purred in her seductive Caledonian brogue.

OK, I know. I should have begun running the moment she produced the paperclip. I should have kept running to the nearest phone box and phoned the medical authorities, and then run some more; but I didn't.

Why not? Well like I say, I was in a confined space with the type of lubricious professional female than only James Bond usually gets to meet. And let's face it, she was offering the only chance of penetration I was ever likely to get to ever experience with her. And it wasn't just my thumb that was throbbing now... despite the pain.

"OK!" I stupidly agreed, and placed a trembling digit upon the worktop...

Then, as the paperclip finally glowed a bright and vivid orange she smiled to herself, turned, and approached with the words "Now, this is really going to hurt!"

She grabbed my thumb and proceeded to push the scorching metal through my thumbnail, which began to immediately emit an acrid ammonia smelling smoke at around the same time I began to feel an agonising pain, at which point I had an involuntary spasm and pulled my hand away.

"Oh no!" she cried, ambiguously "I was nearly there!" and appeared to be genuinely disappointed, possibly with my lack of manliness.

"OK," I replied, calming myself, "I'll do it!" and took the cooling paperclip from her beautifully delicate, yet masterful hands.

I reheated the clip, and then, with her leaning over beside me to get a closer view, I found myself grimacing, taking a deep breath, and after pausing for a contemplative second, pushed a burning piece of metal into my own thumbnail!

The pain was indescribable, and I let out a sizable "Aaargh!" as the fiery stylus burnt its way through and pierced the blackened nail. Yet then, as the all-consuming agony rapidly accelerated, there was just as suddenly a release, not just of the trapped blood which gushed from my smouldering finger up onto the galley walls, but from the pain itself, accompanied by a shrill scream from my accomplice who threw her hands to her face as the spurt gushed outwards at her.

The relief was as indescribable as the pain itself. I exhaled, dropped the paperclip, and shook my haemorrhaging hand, as I eased myself back against the cupboard. Jade held her own hand to her chest and said "My! That was exciting!" before asking to inspect the wound, and volunteered to expertly bandage my traumatised limb.

How we both laughed as we wiped my emissions from the tiling.

And then, that was it. Just me, Jade, a kitchen, and a not so black fingernail. 

I don't think I ever got that close to her again until I came home with a nosebleed or something, but that, dear reader, is another bag of plasma!

Oh and by the way, my fingernail eventually dropped off, and took an AGE to grow back again. They never tell you that bit do they? And as for Jade, well in the end she married a balding advertising man. So it seems I dodged another bullet and bleeding to death one more time... 

Smiley face.

HAMMER RASHSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

As the pictured news article from the trusty old BBC states, you can pay 499 Euros and you'll get the chance to take off - and strip off - up in the air. And naked you'll stay until the plane touches down in a nudist colony place called Usedom, out on the Baltic coast. Yes you are now free to move around the plane cabin completely stark bollock naked.

Yes you read that right, and for those of you that may want or even need to know, it is indeed possible to partake in a NUDE FLIGHT to a naturist colony. 

OK, let's stop tittering like immature schoolboys now and think about why this is such a BAD, BAD, HORRIFICALLY BAD IDEA: Let's just think it through for a minute or two...

a) First off, can you imagine the scenes at the airport metal detectors? - "Sir, only take your belt off! Sir, I only asked you to take the belt off! Only the BELT sir!

b) Air Conditioning: Plane flights are very often COLD! You will therefore need to stay warm, and you're not going achieve that in bare skin are you now? Also the partaking gentlemen passengers may want to fully consider the consequences of prolonged coldness on their "down-belows", I mean no-one wants to spend the first three days of their dream holiday attempting to undo unwanted "shrinkage" do they?

c) How the hell are all these passengers going to get undressed in the confined space of an aeroplane fuselage, and if they should actually manage that, where are they going to put their clothes? There aren't exactly WARDROBES on board! Are they going to politely take turns as each undresses in the aisle space? And how long will that take them exactly? Someone's bound to get to the destination still FULLY CLOTHED (albeit with warm testicles), and having to arrive ashamed of their unwanted clothedness.

d) Those poor unfortunates with an aisle seat will at some point have someone's privates in their face as the overhead locker is accessed by their neighbouring nudists. What exactly is the protocol for when some bloke needs to rummage in the over-head above your seat? The clothed crotch adjacent to one's face is unpleasant enough, so imagine the horror of going face to face with some sun-withered member close up, just dangling there like an exhumed squirrel!

e) Have they even considered the risks involved during turbulence, with the possibility of the flight attendant inadvertently pouring scolding coffee into one's lap? And does anyone really want to witness the effect of "turbulent jiggling" on the larger breasted of the ladies? Mmm, maybe not as good an argument as I first thought but I'm sure that if you had to endure the proximity of a wobbly figure as mine you would have a better idea of what I meant. 

f) Then there's the vibrations running through the fuselage as the engines rumble you to your destination. Them vibrations have already had the blame for the arousal of certain passengers. What kind of orgy could this lead to while en-route then?

g) And finally, well for now anyway, what if they ever have to evacuate their stricken aircraft on the runway? Does anybody want to see that sort of spectacle on the evening news as they sit down for dinner? And what about the chafing on the escape chute, never mind the skid marks? 

No; I don't think they've thought this through at all!

Let's also hope that all these nudist types remember to shower before boarding and bring spare towels too; otherwise the airline is going to have to BURN all its blankets and pillows.

And as an aside, I think the flaw in the whole nudist argument was best put forward by Bernard Bresslaw in "Carry On Camping", when Sid James suggested that they spend their holidays at a nudist camp. 

"I don't know." says Bresslaw. 

"When I go on holiday I like to relax. And when I relax, I like to put my hands in my pockets. How am I going to do that with no pockets to put 'em in?"

A FLIGHT UNCOVEREDSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

It may be out of fashion these days, but I think discretion is one of the finer of human virtues, and I have to admit that I'm disappointed to be trapped in an income bracket that prevents me from enjoying the benefits of the level of salesmanship available to the higher of economic groups.

I am aware that the gentlemen of the upper-crust who shop in such thoroughfares as Jermyn Street, or amongst the merchants of Mayfair, are afforded the utmost of dignity in their transactions. I understand that the service available there is always polite, ever obliging, yet never intrusive, or dare I say it: over-familiar.

No. Due to my relative penury, I am forced to shop amongst the hoi-polloi.

For example: some time back, in an all night chemists near Manchester University, I once steeled myself to procure some condoms. Yes, dear reader: you read that right ...Condoms. I followed the age-old protocol familiar to all men in this situation, and stepped forward to the counter, pointed to the "items" I wished to procure and while severely blushing at my own embarrassment, curtly proffered a ten pound note towards the lady attendant as remuneration while being still fully aware of where the combs were should I bottle it (chicken out) mid way through the transaction.

Obviously the moment could not pass quickly enough as she took her time noisily shoving my purchase into an unnecessarily rustly bag. Then, as though she purposely wanted to drag the process out a little further, she paused, looked up, and asked in an East End accent broader that the Mile End Road:

"Do you want a receipt with that?" (Or "jew wan' a resee' wiv 'at?")

Naturally, I coughed, and through a dry throat uttered a curt "no!"

She appeared to expect this reply and added:

"Nah, it's not as though you're gonna bring' em back, eh!"

I still shudder at the very recollection.

Back to my main point then...

Before leaving the shores of Blighty for a new life in Oz, I took the opportunity to do some much needed under-pant shopping courtesy of Saint Michael, the Patron Saint of underwear down at that British institute of greatness, Marks & Spencer (and can I add that, apart from the occasional luxury ready meal, underpants & socks are ALL I would ever buy at M&S). Anyway, I made my choice and queued up to pay for my "garments", and finally made it to the till.

The young man behind the counter was initially polite, and appeared quite efficient as he scanned the bar code and stated the price in clear tones. (£7.50 for ten: not bad). But then, and to my utter ASTONISHMENT, he then OPENED THE PACKET AND TOOK A PAIR OUT! Brazenly! With his own hands! I could only look on in dismay as he casually admitted that he was just "checking to see if they're the size on the packet!" 

Like that was anybody's business: my pants. He was handling MY UNDER-PANTS for God's sake! In front of EVERYBODY!! I mean, I ASK YOU.

Therefore, a Statement to those concerned.... 

Look, Mr. "Marks & Spencers" whatever your name is, please leave my pants alone! I'm pleased that you care about actual pant-sizes matching the packaging, but kindly not whilst I am undergoing the indignity that under-pant shopping represents. I mean, what if I'd gone for the old-man's pants this time? (And let's face it, one day that day will come). Do I want everyone in the queue behind me to know? Will you hold them aloft and announce to the assembled throng "Blimey! He's gone for the old man's pants, and they're the wrong size!"

No sir, I don't like this development one little bit. Basically, I just want to pay for the pants and leave. If they're the wrong size, I'll just throw them away, and then visit ANOTHER branch to buy more, and will keep doing so until I finally get the right size. That's the way it is with under-pant shopping.

M&S? S&M more like.

Anyway, I've probably said enough, but I just think that this is some kind of training issue you might like to take up with your staff. I really do.

PANTSSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Recently, whilst drinking with a friend in a real grown up pub, he asked: "when did women in this country start to whoop?" At the other end of the bar there were indeed a group of young women whooping at that moment, behaviour not seen twenty years previously, and possibly not even ten. Whooping women came in with tattoos, alcopops, tramp stamps and muffin tops and its becoming difficult to remember when this wasn't the case.

My reply at the time was something like this: 

Whooping was unknown in the sedate Britain prior to the introduction of The Price is Right. The producers of The Price is Right (a programme targeted... to quote Oscar Wilde... for those who knew the price of everything and the value of nothing) were keen to install the ambience of the American original by coercing the audience to behave like crazy arseholes. And therein lays the problem in that the average British contestant is typically bland and unused to displays of outright exhibitionism. And in their attempts to comply, they would invariably get it wrong, and as they self-consciously rose to their feet they had the habit of hunching their shoulders on standing, and never quite getting their arms fully above their heads on the descent, whilst glancing around nervously, unsure if they were performing as instructed. And if the experience was painful to them performing, it was even more agonising to watch; like some kind of Island of Dr Moreau on prime time.

Twenty years later, I was watching Big Brother. It was an eviction night and the presenter Davina McCall (probably the whoopiest woman of them all) announced that they were going over the scene outside where the audience awaited. The audience were unaware of their cue, and we next saw a bunch of bored, rain-sodden mugs muttering amongst themselves, until someone alerted them to their presence on live television. In an instant, they immediately sprung into to life, acting like someone put Sunny D in the reservoir, with one previously inert young male even throwing himself at the camera and screaming like a crazy bastard. 

Something had clearly shifted within our society, in that a whole new generation had arrived that had acquired the sufficient pavlovian reflexes sufficient to provide the broadcast executives with their raw material.

Equally this became apparent at the televising of football in pubs. During the 1998 World Cup for example, there were people watching football who would have previously pretended that they didn't even know such a tournament existed. Rupert Murdoch had succeeded in making it trendy, and over the following years we witnessed the Beckham phenomenon, where it was no longer necessary to know anything about the game, as long as Posh Spice's Golden Balls was playing (Posh spice is the one who looks like a basted chicken by the way).

In 2002, I witnessed a crowd watching an England qualifier in a pub in Manchester, where half the audience were busy chatting amongst themselves, whilst a couple of women from New Zealand (a Rugby nation, with no notion of football) tiresomely persisted on shouting out "come on Becks!" throughout the game. There was a guy next to me, stood clutching a pint to his chest, watching the match, obviously with some intent, whilst a friend stood in front of him, with his back to the game, wittering on about his problems at work. Then England scored, and everyone who had being chatting unconcerned with the game, found time to stop and leap in the air cheering; and no-one more avidly than the previously disinterested problems-at-work guy. His paroxysms of joy were typically in complete contrast with his previous demeanour. It was easily apparent by now that they weren't here for the football at all, they were here for the jubilation, the celebration, the sense of occasion. They felt nothing at all for the game, and clearly didn't even wish to watch it, but they wanted to take part in ‘The Good Bit: THE WHOOPING’.

Likewise, I'm not one for gigs anymore, and not just because there's hardly anyone worth seeing these days, but I'm also a lot older, can't be bothered to go out, gigs are expensive, and you have to buy tickets from an agent etc. When I was a kid, when gigs were a third of the price of an album, (and when did that change?) it was possible to phone the Manchester Apollo, order your tickets on trust, and they would be held in your name until you turned up to collect them. No additional fees, just the face value. And you collected them several days before, or even at 6.00pm on the night, to ensure you got in the hall early, because you were excited: that's why you were there after all.

So I'm partly unprepared for the post-modern concert experience, particularly now that the bulk of ticket sales appear to be going chiefly to marketing firms who tout them on to corporate hospitality dealers, or put them up as competition fillers, and consequently our theatres and venues are full of disinterested people who are merely up for a free night out. Indeed, this is how I got to be at the Shepherd's Bush Empire watching Isaac Hayes on Friday 3rd August 2007, when a friend called me up looking for someone to share his competition tickets.

But first of all I had to witness THE QUEUEING. My pal, the guy who had won the tickets, didn't actually have the tickets; he had a sheet of A4 paper with an email printed on it with his winning ticket details, just like everybody else. There were hundreds of us, and everyone had had the same idea. It was clear that no-one in the queue had actually bought tickets for this gig; no-one was that interested in Isaac Hayes, and EVERYONE had found out that the band started at 9:00pm, and had therefore decided to go to the pub until show-time. No pre-gig anticipation, no getting in early to get a good slot, this was not going to be an atmospheric night.

Well it was tedious queuing for half an hour, and at least the house manager had the sense to grab a roll of tickets (for something else entirely, probably somebody that NO-ONE wanted to see, even for free!) and walked the queue just handing them out, just to get an audience inside before the gig was over.

When inside, the sound was awful, you couldn't hear anything, there was no definition and Hayes had turned up with a row of keyboard players, replacing the brass section, the strings etc. Not that the crowd seemed to care; they stood there holding their mobile phones aloft taking photos that no-one would want to see. And although the sound was bad, and the groove was non-existent, there were people there who believed the poster that Isaac was the godfather of soul, and were giving it their all, impersonating the kind of dancing last seen in crap films from the seventies, where Starsky and Hutch get to visit a discotheque.

And then... of course... there was the whooping.

The bass player did a two-minute solo (there would be a lot of solos; Isaac knows how to pad). However, although the only thing that could be detected above the mud-bath of a mix was the click of his slapping, the crowd didn't mind at all, they knew their job, and when the session guy finished, they duly obliged with a rousing round of whoops and whistles. 

It was worse still with the guitarist. The audience knew that the lead guitarist has mythical status in popular music. He is the wild man of pop after all, and as the septuagenarian stood at the front of the stage wasted our time with a series of tedious blues scales, the crowd cheered every cliché, but saved the worst 'til last, when the complacent "axeman" ran the strings across the mike stand; JUST LIKE JIMI HENDRIX! They went mental!

But then they automatically switched off again and went back to chatting. I noticed that there was an audible babble across the hall that was the sound of people conversing above the noise on stage. They were all talking between their little bouts of crazy arse-holery. Every time the band did a showpiece moment, the audience rewarded them with a yelp, and then the band went back to their complacency and crowd returned to their own little worlds.

I admit that I wasn't that keen to see Hayes to begin with, although I had assumed that I might see a good band, and was prepared to be pleasantly surprised, even with the outside chance of an opportunity to actually GROOVE for the first time in years... Wrong on so many counts.

But my fellow concert goers: what are we to do with them?

It seems that the post-modern experience is one of vicarious living. Unable to actually create anything new for itself, a generation has risen that has made a study of the past with the belief that it is theirs to own. If someone was great in the sixties; they're good now! But is it really possible to recreate the experience of the music when it actually meant something, even if it’s now totally out of context, and that the last thirty years has watered the experience down through over-familiarity?

If you want to believe Isaac Hayes is the godfather of soul, then go-ahead. If you want to dance like Isaac Hayes is the godfather of soul go-ahead too. It doesn't really matter, because as long as you believe what the marketing world tells you, and that you are having a good time, nothing can stop you from believing it. Not the cost, not the fact that Isaac Hayes hasn’t sold a record in years (apart from Chocolate Salty Balls; but he didn't even write that!) not even the fact that you couldn't actually hear anything through the din because they couldn't be bothered to do anything about it, because no-one was listening anyway. 

What a bag of shite!

I'M A SOUL MANSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

As the onset of climate change manifests itself once again in the UK this October with the budding of plants and the decline of "the Conservative Party are killing pensioners by not providing sufficient heating subsidies" headlines in the Daily Mail, I believe a dilemma has also arisen for a minority amongst us who may feel their whole raison d'etre to be challenged.

They are, of course, the young men who would strut the sub-zero streets of the more northern provincial cities of Britain in t-shirts, emphasising their heavily tattooed biceps however low the temperature (Note: these are not to be confused with their distant relation, the inner-city young black male in the woolly hat, worn throughout the extremes of the oppressive heat of the summer. I've no idea what's going on there.).

Anyway, it may already well be minus 5 in Newcastle, with the North Sea wind-chill factors dragging it down even further, but the geordie lads will still be out in nothing less than a football shirt, regardless of the unremitting misery they may be enduring, solely to demonstrate that they are real MEN. Every year, in testament to the fact, the north-east produces a series of "drunk man found dead in a t-shirt with hypothermia" stories, as the inebriated stalwarts attempt vainly to stagger the last mile home in the midst of the wildest possible snow storm.

What does any of this mean in the new era of the Meditteranean style winter though? Well not much really. Because in such mild weather, the choice to step out in a t-shirt just looks like you may have left your jacket in the car whilst nipping into the corner shop for a paper. The whole point is lost; it's like a karate expert forgoing the old breeze blocks and opting to chop through ice cream instead.

Never again is a woman going to think: "wow, look at that alpha male, he's exhibiting the very virility that I need to ensure that my offspring will not only survive, but thrive in just a t-shirt in the most rugged of winters, I will display myself to him and encourage him to copulate with me!"

Indeed, under the new warmer conditions, and the concomittant semiotic confusion that would arise from the vague new dress codes being set, such women may well begin to be distracted by other, less rugged, modes, like the duffel coat, or heaven forbid, the cardigan. 

This could have really serious consequences for the drinking classes, as the gene pool would become weakened as their women begin to forego the "knee-trembler" 'round the back of Harry Ramsden's world famous chippy, and elect for the more comfortable wooing of a night at Yates' Wine Lodge followed by some passionate slap & tickle in front of the nearest fire place somewhere in the suburbs.

And thus, an entire species of spotty, translucent-skinned herberts, raised on chips and brown ale will wither (not unlike their frozen penises) and die, whilst a less robust "continental" style of youth will emerge, with a penchant for coffee and conversation, in preferrence to the earlier traditions of ram-raiding and tribal street-brawling.

Oh yes my dear reader, global warming is going to have a much wider impact than you may think.


Twenty odd years ago now, it was claimed that caring people had began to suffer the guilt that often accompanies "compassion fatigue", and the post-Live Aid inability to mobilise against the continued want in the Third World. However much it mattered, it was deemed impossible to maintain public empathy as donors began to refocus once again, upon concerns in their own lives.

I think the same is true with what is currently happening in the Middle East, where the Third World Bully Boy Israel over-reacts and pounds its poorer neighbours in a tedious spat between cultures that will ultimately destroy thousands of innocent lives needlessly. It's not as though western liberals don't care anymore, or that there isn't the will to do something about it: I just think that people have sussed that there is no natural end to this conflict as none of the protagonists seem to want it to end. The conclusion reached therefore, is to change focus and concentrate on what CAN be achieved in the world.

When I hear Israeli ministers (the elected representatives of a democracy?) shouting at television interviewers because they've been asked to account for themselves, or listening to Palestinian mothers saying how proud they would be if their son became a suicide bomber, then I cannot imagine how such a fucked up region could ever reach an equilibrium. And I suspect that this notion is beginning to influence otherwise positive, radical thinkers into creating a blind spot regarding the sensory over-load coming from the Middle-East. And this will continue tomorrow, and so on.

So what can we actually do? A plague on both their houses?

Maybe we should stop to draw breath and consider the folly of concentrating on what's happening in the here and now, and begin to properly consider the ridiculous possibility that there's a 0.1% chance that, in time, SOMETHING, (possibly even something totally unimaginable to our generation) may shift in the history of the region that will make the current options untenable to the protagonists. It is therefore everyone's responsibility to ensure that that 0.1% chance is not obstructed, because it's the only one on the table.

Personally, I feel that the whole world's fate has now fallen into the hands of those that never matured beyond the mindset of 14 yr old boys, who "ain't gonna be dissed, init!" as the work of centuries of western enlightenment is about to disappear down the toilet because it has too many shades of grey for their polarised dream world. And the only superpowers available are in the hands of certifiable idiots.

So for the benefit of the school kids trying to run the show, here are the answers you need...

THE MIDDLE EAST CONFLICT SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

I was in the bookshop next to Griffith University today, eruditely checking the latest titles, when I happened to notice the new influx of undergraduates, pert with their slim young limbs, enjoying the prolonged good weather in their scanty summer clothes.

Oh how I envy them, what with all their life ahead of them, full of youthful optimism, making new friends, discovering new places and opening up to new experiences (possibly with an older man they've met in a bookstore) and enjoying the beautiful things in life.

Anyway, there I was enjoying this vista of nubility, when my gaze shuddered to a screaming halt at the sight of an obese ginger-haired woman wearing.... No sorry, I can't bring myself to describe the scene although it did involve a shopping trolley. Anyway this optical assault was no less than visual pollution to someone gifted with such a discerning eye.

And yet this sideshow exhibit was not alone: you would not BELIEVE some of the people I saw walking about today. Talk about people of Walmart. Some were even unaccompanied and in full view of everybody! I even saw one man with a balding head that was too large for his body; wearing cheap spectacles; carrying his belongings in a carrier bag.

Now whenever I raise this subject, people tend to throw up their hands with opprobrium, and start raving on about human rights, diversity and the right to life, etc, so before you JUMP to any conclusions, please hear me out here!

Obviously, I'm not talking about licensing for ugly/unusual people, don't get me wrong. Well actually, yes I am, but it would be purely consensual.

Basically, a local government officer would interview those put forward and discuss why they had been referred (the office would be equipped with a choice of mirrors, and weighing scales as an aid to this process), and the pugs/weirdos, would be persuaded to do the socially decent thing, and accept a generous set of conditions dictating the hours which they would be recommended to be out. Obviously, there would be no right to appeal either, as some may be too stupid to know what's good for them, and we don't want to waste tax-payers' money in the courts now do we?

It's not like they don't know why they've been referred, and most of them, when alone at night, probably pray for someone to do something about it. (Like that werewolf chap who insists on being locked in the room). Take that ginger haired excuse for a lady for example: what was her appearance in public other than a cry for help?

Is this too much? Let's face it, it's their well-being that I'm thinking of. It can't be easy going through life being pointed-at and making milk go sour, when all they probably want to do is a twelve hour shift at a call centre. And with 24hr shopping there's no reason they can't gather with their own kind overnight, which is probably the way they like it. They're certainly more likely to find their own kind on the tills at that hour anyway.

Obviously, I'm not going to address the issue of sterilisation because that belongs to a whole other debate, but I think it would be worth putting it into the public arena.

Look, life has been cruel enough to these people, and who are we to prolong the misery. Write to your parliamentary candidate today, and make them see sense.

And I suppose if that doesn't work, we'll still have the option to riot in the streets, burn cars, invade the TV studios and declare parliament void until we get our way.

YOU BEAUTYSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

I was in a bar one day last year (a few days actually but this one in particular), watching football on the TV and passing the time of day with the Greek landlord, when he asked me the ultimate question that all foreigners get around to asking all Englishmen at some point or other in their lives:

"Every World Cup, the England football team are favourites, but they always fail. Why?

And I gave him the usual answer:

“The players are good enough, but the managers, chosen by the conservative forces within the Football Association, are only ever mediocre and inevitably get it wrong. No shape, no style, no imagination."

And ultimately, I could also add how the English themselves seem to prefer their teams to struggle through the qualifiers, unpunished for their mistakes by ineffective opposition (whom England should thrash), until they reach the quarter-finals, where they raise their game only to lose heroically. Heroic failure you see, it’s the English way. 

We would have won, if only... We SHOULD have won, but we were cheated... At least we won the moral victory. Etc. (A mindset unthinkable amongst most Australians & Americans)

But like every other World Cup before it, the next one should be different. And why is that? Because, as is usually the case, the current squad is undisputedly the most talented in the whole of England's history. 

So why are they so awful then? And believe me, they ARE! They are nothing short of uninspired, gormless, directionless, and error-prone: in short, they’re a bunch of under-educated, over-paid, highly groomed and moisturised Nancy-boys.

And apart from the fact that they're all too rich to care these days, I think I've accidentally recognised the huge void between their talent and their inability to deliver, and their wealth is something to do with it; not in their club wages, but in their commercial activities.

A few years back, I watched an England v. Sweden fiasco at a friend's, having previously seen all the preceding games at home, alone, where I'd been sitting down at kick-off, then popping out for a spot of gardening at half-time, and switching off at the final whistle, to get on with my life. The Sweden game was on Britain's commercial ITV network, and thus the match was enveloped with ads, all featuring members of the England squad, flogging cell phones, beer, Nike sports gear, cars, you name it and they were flogging it for all they were worth. And it struck me that every advert, with their high budgets and chic production values, portrayed our chavvy over-achievers as very stylish and smooth operators. Brilliantly lit, with slick editing and moody scene-setting, they all take on the role of the Super-Celebrity, the film star in waiting; the style-leader in chief. 

A) I wondered why they were being lauded so much BEFORE they'd even won anything; shouldn't this wait until after they've brought the trophy back home with them?

B) It occurred to me that the posturing in the adverts (the virtual reality of an iconic status) was actually influencing their performance on the pitch.

This self awareness, honed by an ever-watching media (even the "Wags" (wives & girlfriends) had competed with the players for coverage) has created an idea of success that is near impossible to recreate on the pitch. For example, watch Beckham as he takes a free kick. He'll stand there posing ridiculously for the cameras before he steps up, no doubt at the insistence of his sponsors. 

They are really no different to how New Labour was, with one eye constantly on the tabloids as they turn to their PAs for advice. In the past, crappy England sides have just shrugged and denied it, often reacting belligerently to their critics. But not any longer; each member of the new side these days has to be seen to take their turn to admit "we've not been good enough", and have insisted that they're going to make every effort to improve, while stressing their sincerity in feeling the public's hurt. 

This time round in Brazil, “the impossible job” of team manager was left to Roy Hodgson who had the unenviable task to deliver the sound-bite: "We're just two games from a World Cup Final, three games from winning the World Cup!" And I was saddened to here this repeated with enthusiasm by a BBC reporter in his own summary of England's chances just prior to them once again being kicked out.

So we clearly now have a situation where the players on the pitch are no longer able to identify the possibility of winning the world cup, within the terms of their public persona, created by the media that pays their outrageous fees, and the reality of actually getting out there on the pitch, talking to each other and taking responsibility for the task at hand.

None of them have the character to stand up and take the initiative. Their pampered lifestyles have rendered them victims of an arrested development and reduced them back to the status of adolescence, which no doubt explains their inability to tell their manager to stick it.

Can they ever win then? Well, there is a possibility. Particularly if the other side is missing crucial players they can. But can they ever win the World Cup though? Well watching the determination of the Germans and the Italians to settle for nothing less than a win, one has to honestly say no. Neither of the aforementioned teams could be describe to be classic at present, but the simple fact that they are TEAMS speaks volumes.

So, can England ever play well and lose then? Well why ever not? They’ve been doing it for years and now we might know why.

FOOTBALL RULESSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

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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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