Monthly Archives: August 2010

Norwegian Wood

Needless to say, this whole adventure was probably at least 68% inspired by Haruki Murakami.  Therefore I am almost as excited about this:

as I am about the fact that I am now a mere three days away from arrival in Japan.

Isn’t it good?

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Musical interlude…

Back soon!

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On anticipation…

I really had meant to do more writing this week, still I suppose packing should really take precedence, given that ONE WEEK from today I will be beginning a journey that will see me pitch up in Tokyo for a 12-month stay.

That said, it seems a shame to let this time, which I described to a pal last night as being ‘like a whole month of Christmas Eves when you were seven’, slide by without acknowledgement.  It hasn’t all been mundane ‘will that fit in my suitcase’, ‘how will I ever remember the katakana’ and ‘what if I arrive but my suitcase doesn’t?’-type considerations.

In amongst all that, and alongside the to-do list from hell, are the more esoteric notions that I am sure must cross the minds of everyone when they leave somewhere, about gaining a different perspective on everything that is familiar to me, including home, country and politics, striking out on my own and seeing a bit more of the world.

People have asked if I am nervous and I suppose I should be, even if only slightly.  Except that with all the planning that has gone into the move and all the waiting around for the final departure date, all I can honestly say I feel is excitement.  Carpe diem and all of that.

ten minutes hate wishes you all extremely enjoyable and fulfilling weekends!

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Toerags unite!

If you haven’t read The Road to Wigan Pier yet, now might be a good time to add it to your reading list.  It isn’t just a searing indictment of everything that had gone wrong in the economic policies of the 1930s and their effects on the day-to-day lives of millions in that blighted Northern town.

The book is more than misery tourism for the titillation of the Left Book Club subscribers who first read it.  Instead, George Orwell was moved to take the train to Wigan by what he saw as the rich’s callous disregard for the plight of the unemployed.

In the 1930s, unemployment was heavily concentrated in the North of England and South Wales, while cities such as Oxford remained close to full employment.  This according to another essential read for all those concerned at how the coming years could pan out, ‘The Slump’ by Stevenson and Cook.  More prosperous parts of the country had little first-hand knowledge of the conditions of the worst-hit regions until hunger marchers, such as those from Jarrow, began to show up.

In such conditions, myths abounded and needed to be busted.  Canards like: ‘there is work available but they simply don’t want it’ and the indignation and misanthropy wrapped up in ‘but the dole is so high they can even get married on it!’, along with:

doubtless even at this late date the old ladies in Brighton boarding-houses are saying that ‘if you give those miners baths they only use them to keep coal in’

were all examples of an effective blame-the-victim strategy which has barely needed to be altered nearly 80 years on.

True, no-one is accusing the ‘toerags’ of keeping coal in the bath.  Perhaps that one could be changed to ‘cans of Stella’. For they are now permanently tagged as ‘the undeserving poor': cheap beer-swilling, Jeremy Kyle-watching, mindlessly shagging layabouts that our brand spanking new Big Society can ill afford to have laying on the sofa.

Such misinformation stank in 1936 and is no more fragrant now.  It wasn’t the unemployed that encouraged banks to act like casinos, or hospitals and schools to mortgage their futures with unaffordable PFI deals.  The poor didn’t see many benefits from the cheap credit that flowed during most of the last decade, as they were left to negotiate with the baseball bat-wielding loan sharks, rather than the ones in Gieves & Hawkes suits.

In The Road to Wigan Pier, George Orwell wondered what it would finally take to tip the British into revolution, lamenting that they had been so cheaply bought off with the illusion of wealth provided by a radio in every home and cheaper clothes and furnishings. Now it is a flippin’ huge HD plasma TV for all, Primark and Ikea that give us the warm feeling that everything is still ok, Jack, and there is no need to take to the streets in Greek-style protest as every service so hard-fought for by our grandparents gets stripped away in the name of debt reduction.

Well maybe there is a need.  Another feature of the 1930s was the dearth of ideas from anyone in Westminster, on the left or the right, on how to tackle the crisis.  It took the start of the Second World War to finally see off the Depression and no-one sensible should be suggesting that we go down that route now, however desperately they want to ape their Granny’s gravy-browning-and-eyeliner-pencil-for-stockings.  Instead what we need is the type of good old-fashioned, D.I.Y., ‘make do and mend’ mentality that sees us switching off the plasma screen and fighting our own corners for a change.

We can only achieve that if we stick together.  Refusing to sanction the branding of the worst off amongst us as cheats, scroungers and toerags is an essential first step.
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Hate highlights – 3 August

A list of the best of the web during the time I’ve been away:

  1. Starting with the insightful analysis of the situation in Afghanistan from Septic Isle that should routinely come from other news sources, yet rarely does
  2. Modernity also covers the reporting of the leaked Afghanistan files
  3. Chicken Yoghurt attempts to do ‘the Hague and evac and put the freshness back‘ into Afghanistan
  4. The Flying Rodent takes a cold scalpel to the heart of the dispute between the US government and BP in Tu Quoque, Buddy
  5. Don’t Get Fooled Again reports on the Trafigura guilty verdict
  6. Truth, Reason and Liberty on the workers around the world fighting cuts in the only possible way in No War but Class War
  7. Ben Six writes about a reshaping of graduate ambitions in the face of brutal economic reality in The Playing Field
  8. Tania Glyde ponders the ‘RIP Raoul Moat’ Facebook groups and the sound of Guardian readers’ heads exploding
  9. There is an illuminating Interview with a Private Eye, over at Viceland
  10. And the ever-excellent Daniel Hoffmann-Gill tries to do shopping, with surprising results…

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My, my, you have been busy…

Returned from a three-week hiatus and there are OVER A THOUSAND blog posts in my Bloglines queue.  No slouch I, so I’m planning to read a good chunk of them in order to answer the questions: ‘what the heck is going on here?’ and ‘who’s in charge of this mess?’ plus muse upon the essential, ‘with so many bloggers writing such good stuff, how does anyone find the time to read it all?’

Picture borrowed from The Wikiman

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