Tuesday, 29 November 2011


Well, it had to happen.

Not christmas, I meant this post, christmas I'm happy to leave well alone. In my world there would be no christmas, it wouldn't happen. Instead people would be encouraged to give presents etc any day of the year or if people really felt the need to flex their giving/receiving muscles it could be amalgamated into birthdays, just think, all those insansely cheerful and insufferably smug adverts (think jamie Oliver with a tray of Mince Pies, yeeurgh) all year round. Actually that is a shit idea, I'd rather die than live in that reality.

Christmas is a horrible time of year, it's a time of pressure in terms of economics, family and expectations. Even knowing my thoughts on this time of year people still get miffed if they send a card and I don't send one back. I don't do cards, they know this yet by placing one on my desk or through my letter box it somehow puts in place a contract that if broken means many months of hard stares and awkward silences, not for me though because I never asked for a card in the first place.

Presents as well, I don't give presents but again, someone puts a trinket on my desk or in my hands with a look in their eyes which is the equivelant of hands being held out. I'm not so insensitive that I enjoy standing there like a plank having nothing to give back but you see, I didn't ask or expect anything from you in first place.

For me though, the reason I don't like christmas and why its not a jokey 'oh he's just being miserable' thing is because my family is utterly dysfunctional, the extent of this dysfunction would be funny if it wasn't so serious. When I say I hate christmas I really mean it and on many levels as well.

The religious aspect of it is neither here nor there, the commercialisation of it while pretty disgusting again is neither here nor there, whether some spoilt little fucker gets an xbox or not matters not a jot. Christmas for a great many people is like a giant highlighter pen, a big flourescent yellow Stabilo Boss (I have one on my desk here) that for the month of December serves to bring to the fore everything that is shit about their existence. I was going to say I wasn't envious of those families who do get together and have a great day because I am slightly, I certainly don't begrudge them it (although this missive may say otherwise.) It's just that for many, quite a lot in fact and for a great many for whom it may look good; its actually a load of fucking shite.

Right, so I've got that off my chest and its on to other things. The John Lewis advert, much vaunted in the press, released early before TV transmission in the hope it would go viral, no idea if it did. The premise is a wee boy seemingly impatient to get to christmas morning so he can tear the paper from his new xbox (the little fuc-) But no! He was actually desperate to give his own gift to his parents. If you read Charlie Brooker's Blog in The Guardian, among other things, he claims the sweetly wrapped box contains the severed head of the family dog. I think its worse than that, I think it's his sister's severed head, (the boy's, not Charlie Brooker's.) That's why she's not in the advert and that's why through-out the advert, his parents regard him with concerned looks, they're worried about him alright, they know what he's done, oh yes, next time it's on the telly, look at that advert in this new light and you'll see the truth of it.

The only agreeable thing about it is the music, I actually quite like it, I like it more because its an old Smiths track, Morrisey the odd-dancing (youtube it, it's bizarre stuff) & ex-lead singer gave permission for it to be used. Apparently disgruntled Smiths fans up and down the land are throwing their bongs and couscous out the pram because the big M in his heyday was something of an anti-establishmentarialist, hold on let me check that again... It might be wrong, I have no idea, in any case, anything that gets the greeny-holier-than-thou-vegetarian crowd up in arms is a good thing in my mind.

So far, the Littlewoods advert I think is most annoying because it is the most catchy, I find myself humming it (I'm starting to hum it now in fact) and I have to punch myself in the face as a form of revulsion therapy. The down side to this is when ever I hear the tune, I now punch myself regardless, some local kids have found out, they run up and sing and I start punching myself in the face; its a bit embarrassing. The Morrison's advert with Jamey Oliver (who I didn't mind until I saw an episode of Jamies' Great Britain or some other brain-dead offering from the BBC peaktime mulch-machine) and I discovered the true depthes of his cretinous nature, as a result Morrisons adverts are rubbish all year round.

I went for walk on Saturday night to the German Market in Princes Street Gardens (it's in Edinburgh if you're not from these parts.) It was quite pleasant in an over-crowded overly busy way, there were loads of oriental people dribbling sausage fat or bits of crepe & melted chocolate down their lovely clothes while, I assume, German people, sold things to the punters they couldn't possibly want or need under any other circumstances, for example, a sculpture of a swan made out of wire rope? No idea what that signifies (almost a pun there.) You could have your brat's name woven into a big christmas stocking or buy a stupid hat with ear flaps, if you wear it just right you can hide the look of shame on your face as you realise you've just spent an entire week's wages on utter shite.

To summarise. I don't like christmas in a very intrinsic way, although I hope others enjoy it if they can. Christmas adverts do annoy me, each one apart from being insufferably cheerful and smug serves to remind us how we should be feeling but cannot. I've so far managed to avoid being drawn into christmas card trench warfare or a war of gift attrition, although I do like a christmas dinner, as long as I can eat it on my own and in peace preferably with lots of cheap wine to deaden the pain.

I have to stop now, I need to take my swan back to the German Market, when I tried to hang my new hat & scarf combo on its wings, they fell off with a clang. Its not all bad though, it turns out I'm quite good with a German Sausage, the looks of appreciation on the faces of the several Japanese students I helped who were struggling with their sausages was gratifying indeed.

I think it was appreciation, its hard to tell because they all look-

Saturday, 12 November 2011

The Fossil Fuel Levy.


Don't stop reading, it's not that boring, well it is, its quite dull but listen, this is one of those things while boring; you need to know.

The Fossil Fuel Levy (FFL) has been getting bandied around a fair bit recently, although  not in the main stream media for obvious reasons. It's probably not that important in and of itself but it is for what its come to represent in the continuing situation for the UK. I thought I'd be a dear and explain what it actually is and why you should atleast know something about it.

So what is it? Its a levy introduced in Scotland in 1998 (it had been on the go in England & Wales since 1990) on fossil fuel, thats why its called the fossil fuel levy. Ok, that was a cheap shot, the idea was to introduce a tax payable by consumers (you and me) and suppliers of energy where that energy came from burning coal, oil or gas. The proceeds went towards what they snappily called the Non-fossil Fuel Obligation, the NFFO in turn was a contentious peace of legislation that required a portion of fossil fuel income to be paid to Nuclear Producers (then renewables later on) by way of a subsidy.

So far so tedious.

The percentage paid by consumers and suppliers in Scotland over the six years it operated (Feb 1996 to Apr 2002) exceeded 1% only once in April 2001, otherwise it hovered around the 0.7% mark, not exactly going to break the bank for individuals or energy suppliers. However, over the years it was collected some £203 million accrued.

Nodded off yet?

Here's the important bit. Although that money was collected in Scotland, it languished in a London bank account for years, over those years the Scottish Government has petitioned for it to be returned for use in funding research into invaluable renewable energy production, something which is accepted as being a major future contributor to the Scottish economy (Scotland has 25% of Europes renewable potential in wind and wave generation... Aparently, some one with a big forehead said it so I tend to believe it.)

In between times, the Westminster Parliament lumped the 203 million in with general UK wide funding obligations and has been telling the Scottish Government that they couldn't have it, well they could but our Block Grant (the fixed sum we get to run devolved stuff, about 30 odd billions) would be reduced by the same amount... So they would give it back with one hand but take it away again with the other.

I'm not suggesting it belongs to Scotland only because it was raised here, that wouldn't be a logical argument under the current arrangements, I'm saying it was our fair share of a subsidy fund we paid into along with England, Wales and Northern Ireland, unless you think its fair we pay for Nuclear Power Stations to provide power for people living on the South Coast of England as opposed to the South Coast of Fife given that the cash came from the people in Fife, among other places North of the border?

Imagine the tax man took and extra £500 off you in last months pay packet, you notice and ask for it back but they say no for ten years or so, ignoring the interest accrued. Imagine then, the tax turns round after years of you hassling them and said: "You know that £500 we took off you? We're giving you it back, only its now £250. Oh- and we expect you to be grateful." This is what's just happened, Westminster is giving £100 odd million back to Scotland, the rest is being added to the UK wide fund, of which we'll see a tiny (tiny) percentage.

Apparently Scotland benefits from being in Union with Westminster (this has nothing to do with our relationship with English-folk who are shafted by the UK government almost as often & enthusiastically as we in Scotland are.) Its called 'The Union Dividend'.

It seems to me, if you invest your time and effort in an endeavour and get less in return that doesn't represent a dividend, I've just looked up some antonyms for the word dividend; the first one that comes up is 'loss', its quite apt because I'm at a loss to understand why some people still think the current arrangement we have with Westminster is a sustainable one. The FFL is a tiny example of the difference between what Scotland pays into the Union and what we get back, (which is a lot less in case you haven't been paying attention.)

If you managed this far and are wondering how you'll ever get the time back, you're probably a Tory. I looked up some synonyms for the word Tory, many of them are unrepeatable and new even to me.

That is all.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Remember, remember...

I don't like fireworks, they make me nervous, usually because they are either found in the hands of horrible pikey type people or fat middle aged men who are slightly merry after supping one to many pinot grigios and are now out to impress friends and neighbours with a tour de force display of pyrotechnics. Either way, best case scenario; local countryside or cityscape's are set on fire. Worst case; horrific burns and injuries are inflicted on innocent onlookers.

If on the other hand the pikey type people are injured I don't really mind, I'd be lying if I said I was ambivalent because I think shopkeepers and other purveyors of the sparkly hot stuff should be able to make a judgement call if a suspected pikey tries to buy fireworks (are they wearing a cap/sports kit/sallow skin/Lizzie Duke jewellery?) If yes then they can pick up the 'bargain pikey party pack' with those special fuses that are much shorter than normal ones, when I say much shorter, I actually mean non-existent; the fire work just goes off instantly, in their face with any luck.

I jest of course, (I'm don't, I mean it.)

But what is it about fireworks that attracts so many people, I'm a long way away from my own childhood, so much so I don't remember if I liked fireworks (or anything else really.) I can only assume since I was as miserable then as I am now (if in a more general sense, I'm much more focused now) I probably wasn't keen on them. All the oohing and aaahing that goes on, people can't still be serious when they do that?

Maybe fireworks bring out the child in us? Big bangs and sparkly colours? Is that doing it for you? (Its not doing it for me.) Perhaps its the expense, all that cash going up in such dramatic circumstances? (A microcosm of the banking crisis?) Or maybe its the sense of community, standing among hundreds of fellow revellers freezing your tits off as things crackle and go bang in the sky? Maybe its a throw back to darker times when we cowered in our caves at anything not mud coloured?

Who knows and to be honest, who cares.

Now for the educational bit, what is it that inspires people to waste so much money on or around the fifth of November? Well, a person called Guy Fawkes a.k.a John Johnson or Guido Fawkes, the Guido he adopted while fighting for the Spanish (not while he was holidaying there.) He returned to England hellbent on destroying the throne and government of King James the I of England and IV of Scotland. James was the son of Mary Queen of Scot's and not popular with Guido Fawkes and his catholic co-conspirators.

They rented some space beneath the Houses of Parliament (not something I imagine one could do these days) and proceeded to fill it with gunpowder. Shortly before it was due to go pop, a letter was received, the Parliament searched and Fawkes captured. He admitted his part in the plot but they tortured him anyway in the Tower of London (the room is named after him, which is nice) where after several bouts of physical persuasion he gave up the names of his cohorts. King James was a Scottish King as well as English (and not very good by some accounts,) when asked by members of the King's Privy Chamber what his intentions were Fawkes was heard to say "to blow you Scotch beggars back to your native mountains." Which is nice.

What was even less nice and if I'm being honest, despite his apparent dislike of the 'Scotch' was the sentence handed down after he (and seven others) were convicted of high treason, I quote: "...put to death halfway between heaven and earth as unworthy of both". Their genitals would be cut off and burnt before their eyes, and their bowels and hearts removed. They would then be decapitated, and the dismembered parts of their bodies displayed so that they might become "prey for the fowls of the air."

They had me at the genitals bit and would have had me at the 'halfway between heaven and earth' if I knew what it meant.

As it turned out, Guido Fawkes managed to fling himself off the scaffold set up for the purposes of dismemberment, breaking his neck in the process. The London crowd, not to be deprived of a spectacle watched as his body was quartered and sent to the four corners of the kingdom to put others off the notion of any copycat crimes anyway.

The upshot was, on the 5th of November 1605 London citizens were encouraged to light bonfires in celebration of their King not being sent ot the moon. The fireworks part of it all didn't start till a bit later (the 1650's,) the effigy that was first burnt on the bonfires wasn't Guy Fawkes but the Pope due to the heir apparent's secret transmogrification to Catholicism in 1673ish, (say ish because this is all mostly from wikipedia so who knows...) Nowadays, the effigy can represent anyone not popular, the list is long containing as it does anyone who ever went on My Super Sweet Sixteen.

Finally, Guido Fawkes is sometimes referred to ""the only man ever to enter Parliament with honest intentions." I can relate to that (the sentiment of the 'Scotch' being blown back to the hills not-with-standing.)

All that has very little to do with fireworks though these days, I suppose I'm being curmudgeonly (again) because while they do make me nervous, that is only true when they are in the hands of the demographic I mentioned in the first paragraph, for hogmanay for example; I don't mind.

We used to do a fireworks display in our local village (when I say we, I mean they, I steered well clear.) There would be a bonfire and burgers, the villagers would don the cold weather gear and watch in boredom as one firework was lit at a time, whoosh! Wait a minute... Fizzz! Wait another minute... Hold on, dropped the lighter thingy... Cracklewhooshfizzz! Wait a minute or two... Repeat for about an hour...

In short, it was boring as fuck and freezing cold too. Much better they put the whole lot in a pile, douse with petrol then throw a match at it and its every man, woman and child for themselves.

I'd go and watch that fireworks display.