Trying not to be part of the problem.

The Front Page of the Daily Express

I was just in the Co-op, where I managed to nab myself five fresh leeks and a tub of cous cous for a grand total of 97p.  Throw in the leeks with a couple of tins of ALDI potatoes and some home-made vegetable stock and I'll have myself a nice vat of soup to last me a good few days.  But that's not even what I'm here to talk about.  I'm here to talk about the front page of today's Daily Express, which looks like this:



To anyone reading from outside the UK who may not be familiar with our obscene publications, the Daily Express is a tabloid newspaper at the right-wing end of the disconcertingly mainstream part of our political spectrum.  While it does stray frequently into the realm of the overtly bonkers - this article from January about a scientist who isn't really a scientist discovering alien micro-organisms that aren't really alien, and which "may be carrying out covert surveillance on Earth" but almost certainly aren't - being one good example among many, many others, the Daily Express' first love is for unsubstantiated sensationalist claims about the latest cure for age and lifestyle-related illnesses that are probably a genuine concern for a sizeable majority of its readership.  Already this month its headlines have announced a cure for Alzheimer's "at last" in reference to a drug that hasn't has finished the clinical trial stage yet and "could be available in five years", as well as the shocking claim losing weight through exercise might be a way to prevent diabetes, an illness that absolutely everyone already knows is  related to being fat.  The Daily Express also shares an enthusiasm with the equally ludicrous(ly popular) Daily Mail for paranoid reactionary nonsense in relation to immigration, the exact number of penises that belong in a marriage, and general contempt for anything new or interesting that has happened in Britain since Queen Victoria died.  In short, if it was published in America, it would support Donald Trump without the slightest hesitation.

This is the context in which we can understand today's headline: "WORK IS THE KEY TO A LONGER LIFE".  Is it?  The key?  There are no other factors to consider?  Wow.  Should I go back to work after all?  Let's investigate.

The web version of the article, which I 'm assuming is identical with the print version but may not be (I don't care) does at least refer the work of actual scientists, whose work has been published in a peer-reviewed journal - so well done there Daily Express for fulfilling an absolutely basic requirement for reporting scientific facts.  That's about as good as it gets.  Quoting a co-author of the study, stating, "our findings seem to indicate that people who gain active and engaged gain a benefit from that", the Express goes on (without, apparently, asking a single follow-up question in response to this almost meaninglessly vague statement) to grab a few quick quotes from the director of Saga, current government Minister of State Pensions Baroness Altmann CBE and the director of the International Longevity Centre, a UK-based "think-tank" that focuses on population demographics and related economic issues.  All three apparently welcome the implied conclusion that the government's plan to raise the state pension age to 66 for men and women from 2020 is a great idea.  I'm particularly fond of Longevity Centre director David Sinclair's analysis that, "we have to find ways to help people live better in mid-life so that they can have the opportunity to work longer".  Not live longer - work longer.  Thanks David.  I knew there was a reason to go on living.  It's this kind of uncritical assumption that work (and, aside from the odd passing comment about volunteering, the context of the article makes it quite clear that by "work" they want us to think mainly of paid employment, regardless of how dangerous, meaningless or degrading that employment might be) is intrinsically good, more or less no matter what, and which you will find pervading all debate about the value of work and material wealth, which really, well, pisses me off.  I could go on, but I won't.  It sounds too much like hard work.

Ha, ha, ha - but then right at the end of the article comes a statistic that more or less makes my point for me.  1.2 million people aged over 65 work in the UK, we are told.  Interestingly this is exactly the number of people in 2014/15 who were suffering from a work-related illness according to the Health and Safety Executive.  I'm sure that's just a coincidence, of course.  Make of it what you will.


Good Causes, Lost Effects (Part Two)

Is protesting effective?  I am asking a scientific question.  Put another way: do protests work?  As a general question, perhaps it doesn't have a yes/no answer.  As a question about specific protests, it's not a question we ask at all.  Why?

Good Causes, Lost Effects (Part One)

Wander through any British city centre on a shopping day without your hands thrust objectionably into your pockets or sporting something approximating a "fuck you" kind of scowl, perhaps a resting a bitch face and pair of shades, and if you're not paying attention, you'll come away with hands stuffed full of leaflets, mouth full of free samples and, unless you're being really really careful, a brain converted to some new religion.  If you're not taking the morning's twenty-eighth selfie right that second too, someone might also nick your phone.  This actually happened to me once: true story.  Luckily I caught the caffeine-starved scallywag by earlobe the before he could scarper: less luckily, he only agreed to give me back my phone if I converted to Mormonism on the spot.  Turns out the clean-shaven, not polygamist any more, bespoke-suited smiley missionary smiley smilers have switched to a more guerilla form of evangelism in recent years.  I really needed my phone back - I've got loads of good porn on it - so now I'm a Mormon now.  They made me delete all the porn, but I got my phone back.  And a new religion.  These things happen I suppose.  Like I said, true story.  All of this is par for the assault course, of course, of petitions to be signed, market research questions to be answered, electricity suppliers to switch (back) to, buskers to ignore, evangelical diatribes to power-walk past, and all the diversity of causes and unhidden agendas in your headspace and face, competing for your ever-shortening attention in the marketplace of life in a multicultural, consumer capitalist (neo)liberal democracy.

Doing Without

Earlier this year I bought 5 litres of extra virgin olive oil.  I love olive oil, and apparently extra virgin is the best kind.  I don't know what "extra virgin" really means, or how the addition of further virgins improves the quality of the oil; but it's usually more expensive, and that usually means it's better.

The Cost of Living: March 2016

March was expensive.  Ironically this was because of the money I had to spend to get myself into the Highlands, properly equipped for some time in the wild hills, for the peace and quiet, and so as to think about the future, and the possibility of a life without money and things.  Life is strange.

A Good Night's Sleep

My first night camping in the Highlands was cold but it was quiet.  I haven't felt real quiet for a long time.  When you live in the centre of a city, you never do.  There's a neverending hum, and that's only the backing track for the of bin vans, sirens, drunken arguments, throbbing bass, bastard pianos beneath the floorboards.  It becomes a kind of sonic skin; close as can be, inescapable.

The Great Indoors

Twelve days in the Scottish Highlands that felt more like twelve months, and I'm back in Manchester again.  I have a lot of things to tell you.  This will take some time.  I begin with some photos that I took while I was there, to set the mood.  Click on the lovely picture below to take you to the album.


I only returned home last night, so I confess I'm posting this hastily because I happen to have received an email from bloginfusion.com informing me that I'm "blog of the day".  This may, of course, mean nothing: I have no idea if bloginfusion.com is a heavily used site, or what sort of prestige (or traffic) being their blog of the day really brings.  Still, it sounds good, and makes me feel a little giddy.  Thank you to the good people and bots of bloginfusion.com  They asked me to ask you to submit a review of this blog to their site.  Please do that, if you feel like it.  This probably won't last.  

Healthy bowels, limited Internet access.

I am in the Highlands. Internet access is patchy.

Some thoughts:

1. Until you have fallen into a bog, found yourself knee deep in sheep shit and climbed your way out with a 16kg backpack on, it's hard to appreciate how nice a dry pair of socks can be.

2. I am looking for a life free of the burden of possessions and material wealth. Hiking through mountainous terrain with everything I need on my back, and the resulting aches and pains, provides a resonate metaphor to focus the mind.

3. Those tinfoil-like "emergency blankets" provide a surprising amount of insulation. You will wake up beneath them, with your sleeping bag covered in a thin film of watery mist. This is not as unpleasant as it sounds. Highly recommended for the wild camper.

4. Peace can be found in simple routine: go to bed as soon as it gets dark, turn off all devices and really sleep. Wake up when it gets light. Eat a hearty breakfast, drink a litre of water at least and do your best to move your bowels before going about your day. I cannot emphasize this enough: sleep through the night, every night, as much as your body tells you to, and every morning eat a good breakfast and have a poo before doing anything else. Poo is nature's way of telling you it's time to move on.