Wednesday, April 15, 2009

I am Ironman

As my stalwart yeomen know, I have an abnormally effective immune system. While others may dissolve into fits of cough, sneezes and sniffles with the onset of a cold, I merely shrug as thousands of little white blood cells round up any invading cold viruses and expel them with a stern warning never to return.

When a nasty little flu bug decides to do the rounds of our office (see Note 1), my constitution is such that they take one look at my nostrils and decide to go for an easier target.

Sadly, this doesn’t mean I never get ill. It just means that while others around me are suffering from a cold, I will have contracted a far rarer and far more virulent bug.

At the moment, I am forced to endure a colleague moaning while making all manner of strange noises into a decidedly dodgy looking handkerchief. Every now and again, he looks at me with pink rabbit eyes and moans between fits of coughing and sneezing.

I think he is trying to stitch me up and get me to send him home.

That’s not going to happen. I struggled into work today with an army of exotic Bolivian Fugue viruses doing battle over my tonsils while a group of affiliated Asian bugs are being expelled from my every orifice. While I type this, another group of yet unidentified microbes (see Note 2) doing battle inside my cranium are causing a severe headache while being bashed into submission.

Note 1: Which is all too common for my liking. We have a rather old fashioned air conditioning system which flu bugs seem to think is some kind of luxury resort and flock to every winter.

Note 2: Although I have no idea what they are just yet, I remain convinced that they would prove fatal to a lesser being than me.


Wednesday, April 08, 2009

James Bond on the Clapham Omnibus

Here is a little game for my fay yeomen. Think of the most mundane fantasy perpetuated by the media and by the advertising industry that is just impossible to recreate in real life. By that I mean the media portrayal of lifestyle of the fictional and the real.

At the moment, I think that my offering in this arena would be personal transportation.

In the media, people drive cars that match their character and position. While us mere mortals by cars based upon our budget and the mundane practicalities dictated by our lives, media characters are blissfully unfettered by such restraints.

A good example of this could be Morse, the fictional detective created by Colin Dexter. Although he worked in Oxford , a notoriously difficult place to navigate in any car, he elected to drive an old mark 2 Jaguar. Of course, despite its age, this car never let the Inspector down (see Note1). More amazingly, whenever Morse was called upon to visit anywhere in Oxford, he always found a convenient parking space right outside his destination – something that any visitor to Oxford will tell you is as likely as snogging Elle McPherson.

You never see James Bond on the bus. Despite having an office in the middle of London, he never arrives late due to leaves on the line or a signalling problem at London Bridge . He is never shown popping into the local newsagent to pay the congestion charge. Despite having a change of clothes for every eventuality, you never see him hauling a cumbersome case through an airport (see Note 2). Again, the creative process not letting real life and practicalities never intrude and tarnish the fantasy.

Like everyone else, I swallowed the fantasy. From a tender and innocent age, I had a yearning for a car of my own, the freedom of the open road and the ability to get from A to B in the shortest possible time. I absorbed the marketing and advertising and the hype that the badge on your car moulded the callow youth and defined the man. (see Note 3)

Now the lifestyle fantasy that surrounds my car is so ingrained that I cling to the idea that it will get me from A to B in the blink of an eye. Despite all experience to the contrary, I believe I will arrive at my destination and glide into an available (And free) parking space within spitting distance of my goal. With wind-tousled hair (see Note 4) feeling calm and fresh, I will be ready to enjoy whatever delights B has to offer.

While Inspector Morse has the magic of television to help him through the car hating streets of Oxford, I don’t have the same help to navigate my way to Cambridge. I have to endure the jams and the congestion and the frustration and the cyclists (see Note 5) of a daily commute.

The mandarins of the council have, like every other congested city in this Fair Isle, decided that action must be taken to stop people driving cars in the city. To this end, they have drawn a line around the city and decided that everyone who passes this line will pay a ‘congestion charge’ fee. For me that means paying the fee for travelling approximately 20 yards inside the zone.

As you can imagine, I was none to pleased with the idea, so earlier this week, I attended the Cambridgeshire Transport Commission to oppose the idea (see Note 6). It seems that the new wibbly-wobbly bus and some fantastic new park and ride schemes will persuade us all to abandon our cars and take to the buses.

They are poor and deluded souls. They have years of programming by the media to overcome if they think they can achieve that. But, I am prepared to be flexible on this. The day I see James Bond using a bus to get to MI6 headquarters, I will be at the head of the queue for Cambridgeshire’s wonderful wibbly-wobbly bus – despite it not going anywhere near my workplace.

Note 1: And come to think of it, never required the dear Inspector perform any impromptu maintenance or even fill it with petrol.

Note 2: Given his choice of cars, I cannot see how he manages to fit his entire luggage into the limited boot space either.

Note 3: At such a tender age, I failed to consider that I would find myself restrained by budget and what proved to be, for me at least, the rather troublesome hurdle of convincing Her Majesty’s Driving Examiners that I was a fit and proper driver. Yet the fantasy was born and the clever marketing men at the car companies convinced me that I was, by the simple virtue of hire purchase, one day going to own the penis extension of my dreams. I never did get to own that car of my dreams. Practical considerations intruded that mean that all my life I have driven cars that define me as extra #6 in the automotive cast list with my participation likely to end up on the cutting room floor.

Note 4: OK, so I know that there is not enough hair on my hair to tousle, but this is all part of the fantasy. Heroes are never follically challenged on celluloid. So, deep in my brain, irrationally charged synapses flare into action as soon as I turn the ignition key. Somehow, when I brake and change down for that fast left hander, catch the apex, squeeze the accelerator and feel the slightest hint of g-forces, for a brief moment, a very brief moment reality blurs. For moment, I believe I have a full head of hair and a buxom blond has appeared in the empty passenger seat to simper “Oh James, the way you handle that gear stick really sends me.”

Note 5: Don’t get me started on the cyclists.

Note 6: I went by car as there wasn’t a bus laid on.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Double Entry Bookkeeping and Childhood Dreams

As my cogent yeomen know, I am a bear of very little brain. This isn’t always a disadvantage, sometimes it is positive asset.

Take the G20 summit in London, while all of the leaders took turns in announcing the unanimity of all concerned and the success of the summit (see Note 1), I remained unconvinced. When all the papers laud the communiqué (see Note 2) as giving real hope for the world economy, I remain disappointed. (see Note 3)

You see, I find it difficult to believe that additional regulations will achieve anything more than provide job opportunities for those young children who have dreamed since they were at kindergarten of becoming auditors. (see Note 4)

Regulation is a problem because it flies in the face of human nature. My logic for being cynical about its likely success is because business, like sport is a competitive environment. With the will to win so great, human nature is such that people are encouraged to play by the letter of the rules rather than to the spirit. I’m not going to search out any of the zillions (see Note 5) examples where sportsmen have sought ways to bend the rules or those where the rules were deliberately or accidentally broken, but I think you can find plenty of your own.

In the UK, the regulator, FSA, had a budget for £250m for staff costs in 2008/09 (increasing to over £300m in 2009/10) according to their latest business plan. Printing out their regulations would destroy a small forest. Yet this didn’t stop various banks from playing pass the parcel with various toxic debts.

You see, the various financial institutions juggle risk against reward (see Note 6) and will still seek to maximise the reward. By simply adding more regulation we will achieve very much. What will happen is that the various financial institutions will simply seek to employ cleverer people with the intent of finding ways to maximise the reward by, like sportsmen, finding ways to take the risk by sticking to the letter rather than the spirit of the rules.

Sadly, business success has only one measure – profit and everything else, including ethics are secondary to the pursuit of wealth.

But fear not, my saturnine yeomen, for this singular purpose of business is also the means by which we could make other considerations, especially ethical considerations more important in the corporate world.

For every profit is subject to taxation. Whatever the risks, whatever the excesses of a business, our governments take their cut of the profits in taxes.

The answer is to make this taxation voluntary. By offering businesses exemption on their tax bill for showing they comply with an accredited and ethical scheme. So Trade Unions could run an accreditation scheme that would knock 20% of the tax bill if a company complies. You could knock a further 20% off if the company is accredited as following the spirit of the regulations as well as the letter. It could be extended to fair trade, the environment, community and all sorts of different considerations.

The profit would be directly affected by the ethics of a business and BINGO! We have a way of stemming the excesses.

Not only that, when wrong doing is detected, we have a way of making sure that we have the means to exact retribution. Remember, Al Capone was eventually brought to justice for tax irregularities.

So for all you G20 leaders reading this little blog, why don’t you phone round your pals and see if you can persuade them of the wonderful simplicity of my little plan in time for your next little shindig in Japan? If you want a few extra details, you can always leave a comment below, I’ll happily put a little meat on the bones.

Note 1: And then promptly returned home to tell their domestic audiences how they fought out to secure an agreement that secured their own particular national interests.

Note 2: I am sure that President Nicolas Sarkozy of France is particularly pleased because he can return to France and proudly announce that after weeks of concerted lobbying and negotiations behind the scenes, he gained international agreement that the G20 would issue a communiqué instead of the a vile anglicised statement.

Note 3: This disappointment was extended to cover the protests as well. They seemed all rather lacklustre. I guess that even anarchists are finding their budgets are being cut back in these uncertain economic times.

Note 4: Otherwise we would end up with a nation of train drivers, nurses, firemen and lap dancers.

Note 5: A few years ago, in order to exaggerate a point I would have used ‘millions’. The responses to past disasters and crisis meant that soon became devalued in the exaggeration stakes so ‘billions’ had to be used. The current crisis has the G20 talking in terms of ‘trillions’ so I am now forced to jump up to ‘zillion’ and I don’t even know if that is the next step up from a trillion or even if it is a real number.

Note 6: We all balance risk against the reward as part of our daily lives. Some of us are more risk averse than others. On a hot day we may fancy an ice-cream from the shop over the road. Some of us will consider crossing the busy road to risky and forgo the treat. Others will consider the risk to our long term health and give the cool gloop a miss. Then there are those who will shout ‘GIMME THE LOLLY’ and run headlong into the rush hour traffic.

Media Whimsy Watch.

My theory is that the appearance of whimsical items in the “serious” media is in direct proportion to the economic prospects.

The G20 summit has obviously had some impact, albeit small.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Teaching New Dogs Old Musical Tricks

As life bestows its chronological gifts, I have reached the stage where I am faced with bafflement when considering modern popular music combinations.

As the sands of time shift, the modern music scene seems to become increasingly difficult for me to comprehend and I find myself seeking solace in the timeless classics.

My daughter has tried to explain to me the merits of various contributors to the music of the current generation, but all of these reality TV show winners seem to look alike to me and all their songs appear to be covers of the proper music from my youth.

I cannot be alone with my confusion over modern music. Such is the state of the scene at the moment that we are seeing the industry encouraging the strange phenomena of bands that split up with artistic differences years ago (see Note 1) to reform and undertake huge arena tours. Even Michael Jackson is currently undergoing a 45 000 mile service with his cosmetic surgeon ready to moonwalk onto stage for a few intimate gigs at the O2 arena.

It seems to me, my mellifluous yeomen, that modern music lacks something. The youth music scene today seems to have forgotten why it exists – it is there to challenge the establishment. It is there to drive hormone fuelled youth into a frenzy of indignation and ignite a passion to change the world.

I was a mere child when Messrs Townsend, Daltrey, Entwistle and Moon started ‘The Who’. By developing a stage act where they destroyed their instruments at the end of the set (See Note 2) and setting the standard for thumbing ones nose at the establishment.

Drawing a veil over the way Roger Daltrey was to subsequently going to retire to a country mansion, become a renowned fly fisherman and advertise American Express; I will point modern songsters to the late lamented Keith Moon. There was a man who epitomised the Rock and Roll lifestyle and ensured the fame of the band. (see Note 3)

Keith Moon defined the style of the band with his delivery of percussion. He provided the beat that drove the music. (see Note 4)

What the musicians of today need to realise is that unless you have some beat in the music, they are never going to be able to whip the audience into rebellious frenzy. How can you expect your songs to probe the mass consciousness to promote the downfall of the western world when they are as memorable as third rate marmalade? Without a mob following, how can they ever expect to enjoy a garage stuffed full of Ferraris attached to a 20 bedroom mansion overlooking a couple of acres of trout lake?

So all you young wannabee musicians out there must get real. If you want to make it big, you have to listen to the legends in the business like Bruce Dickinson (see Note 5) and drive the beat home

There isn’t a single song that I have ever heard that wouldn’t be improved by giving it a bit of extra cowbell!

Note 1: This normally meant that the band members deciding that their years as the symbols of rebellion against the status quo was over and they either bought huge country houses and collected classic cars or retired to rehab for many years before returning to the public eye by advertising car insurance.

Note 2: This meant that they avoided the need for any tedious encore, although they often destroyed equipment of greater value than their fee for the gig.

Note 3: His exploits are legendary such as his penchant for driving cars into swimming pools and his love of flushing industrial strength fireworks down toilets.

Note 4: There could be an element of jealousy behind my admiration of Keith Moon because as everyone knows, I cannot carry a beat in a bucket.

Note 5: And a belated birthday wish to Christopher Walken who celebrated his birthday on the 31st March.