A view over the Severn

Last night I was feeling restless and a bit sick of the city, so short of anything else to do I drove up to Severn View services. I remember stopping there on the way back from somewhere as a kid and sitting in the canteen (from what I can remember of services in the 80s I think canteen is probably the most suitable word) by the window looking over the estuary to the hills and fields on the other side. Sadly only a select few can enjoy that view now as the building that was the services is now offices of an insurance company, but you can still walk up there and look across, and there even two of those old coin operated telescopes.

It’s always nice to look across and see the landscape on the other side, but this time the view was quite dramatic, as there were quite a few dark clouds but with gaps in where the evening sun shone through giving some of the fields on the other side a beautiful glow. I walked for about 10 mins along the coast path and through some woods before heading home. I felt a bit better after that and it made me think I need to get to proper outdoors more. For context I live next to a busy road where it runs parallel with a motorway. The only good thing about that is that sometimes at night it’s actually vaguely relaxing to sit at my desk with the curtains open and watch the lights of the cars going by on the motorway.

Election: 2017 vs 1983

Since Labour’s 2017 manifesto was “leaked” and later published it’s been popular in the media and among opponents of Jeremy Corbyn to make comparisons with the party’s 1983 election campaign, when their manifesto was called by some the “longest suicide note in history”.
Although most comparisons are intended to argue that Jeremy Corbyn is too “radical” lead Labour to an election win it’s interesting to compare the two in more detail.
Margaret Thatcher sought to capitalise on her party’s rise in popularity following the Falklands war by calling a “snap” election. The election was called on 9th May and took place just a month later on 9th June. In a similar way Theresa May wanted to capitalise on her party’s popularity following the EU referendum.
In 1983 the Conservatives won with a large majority of 144 seats.
Unlike in 1983 when opinion polls just before the election had the Conservatives at around 47% and Labour on 25% the most recent 2017 poll has the Conservatives on 43% and Labour on 38%. Also in 1983 Labour’s poll rating had been steadily decreasing from around 30% since the election was called, however in 2017 it has been steadily increasing from 25% since the election was called.

Who is Heath Robinson anyway?

Quite a few times in my life I’ve heard someone describe something as “a bit Health Robinson” usually in reference to something that is held together with string and/or gaffa tape and in some cases could be described as a contraption. I’d never really given any thought to who Heath Robinson was and what he had to do with these improvised constructions. I just accepted it as a turn of phrase and assumed its meaning from context. I never gave it any thought, that is until today when I discovered this colouring book containing a collection of his drawings in a charity shop.

Heath Robinson was a cartoonist who was most active from the 1900s to the 1920s, becoming famous for a large number of drawings of unnecessarily complicated devices for achieving simple tasks. He also illustrated several children’s books.

I didn’t know he was an artist. I guess I’d always assumed he was some sort of inventor, and in a way he was, although his inventions only ever existed on paper.

I’m pleased that none of the pictures in my new book have been coloured in. Partly because this is their original form (the majority of Robinson’s works were black and white line drawings) and partly because it means I can photocopy some of the pages and get my colouring pencils out!

One of my favourite ones in this book, mainly because it reminded me of some friends (you know who you are) is this one:

PS if this post has given you the urge to do some colouring in, you can get hold of the book here.

Marketing Uber-English

I realised recently that whatever you think about Uber, they have managed to pull off an impressive marketing trick that most companies can only dream of. They’ve managed to insert their name into the English language in place of the generic name for the type of service they offer, and they’ve done it in a very short space of time. People don’t use Uber to book a taxi, they book an Uber. People think of it as a completely different type of service, when the basic utility they are getting, moving themselves from A to B is the same, and it’s mostly the same cars and the same drivers moving people around, customers are just using a different system to book their taxi. Uber themselves would debate they are offering a taxi service and have even fought court cases over it, but it seems pretty plain to me.

What is Fake News anyway?

I’ve become increasingly concerned the last few weeks about the number of high profile people from Jeremy Corbyn to Newsnight presenters using Trump’s term “Fake News” to refer to false or misleading news stories. In a way I think using it this way is much more dangerous than Trump using it himself, because it causes confusion and legitimises his use of the phrase. In general when Trump uses it, it’s to attempt to discredit a news story (or an entire organisation) that’s true but doesn’t fit his agenda. He’s certainly not trying to address what is a genuine widespread problem of news outlets producing news stories that are either intentionally misleading, or just plain made up. The worst offenders of this are actually outlets like the Daily Express and the Daily Mail who are generally sympathetic to politicians like Trump, and are actually the kind of outlets that have a big part to play in the success of people like Farage and Trump, by creating in many people’s minds a view of the world which is quite different to reality. They do this by systematically and intentionally misleading their readers. This is far from a new problem, but sadly it’s a problem that it suddenly seems fashionable to highlight using a buzzphrase coined by a man who seems to want to kill off genuine journalism, and make up things that are convenient to his agenda and fit the worldview of his supporters.

So I think anyone who genuinely wants to address the issue of misleading news stories, needs to stop using the term “Fake News” to talk about it, right now.

It’s all fucked, but what can we do?

Throughout my life I’ve spent quite a bit of my time thinking about how to make things better, and more recently just stopping them getting any worse. But just like everyone else living in a capitalist society, I spend so much of my time and energy on getting money to eat and have somewhere to live, that I don’t have much left to actually do anything about it. Politicians know this, and count on it. This is the problem with money, it’s a trap. Maybe there are things we can do about the immediate situation like the privatisation of the NHS and schools, but in the longer term the only solution I can see for a better world is to move beyond money, because it corrupts everything, takes away our freedom and pits everyone against everyone else. As the saying goes: “The trouble with the rat race is even if you win, you’re still a rat”
For most people, with how the world works now as a starting point, a future without money is difficult to imagine. We are conditioned to think that humans are inherently selfish, but I think that actually the opposite is true. The powers that be would have us believe that without the need to work to obtain money, most people would do nothing. I think the reality is that given the chance, most people want to be useful and make a positive contribution to their community. So how do we get there? Well my idea is to buy our way out of capitalism starting with housing. I’ve been working on an idea called The People’s Trust. Using money to work towards a future without it sounds like a contradiction, but bear with me. The idea is that money is raised by people signing up for regular donations to a trust which gradually buys houses and people pay rent. As the trust grows, one by one, tennants can stop paying rent.
Imagine how much freedom and security you would feel if you didn’t have rent or a mortgage to pay. You could work part time, and spend the rest of your time doing whatever you like. Volunteer in your community, spend more time with your friends and family, or work on a plot to bring down the government. Whatever you think is useful or makes you happy. As more people have this freedom, more things that need to will get done, including things that aren’t done properly now because they’re not profitable. Also less people will waste their time doing work that only exists because money does. Through this process I think we can create a transition to a future where people need money less, and eventually not at all.
If people don’t need money, those who have lots of it no longer have any power.
Can you imagine a future without estate agents? Let’s make it happen!

The People’s Trust has a website which is here: People’s Trust

Is Jeremy Corbyn a false hope?

Following Jeremy Corbyn’s nomination to be a contender in the Labour leadership elections I’ve been experiencing a period of excitement that maybe, just maybe, someone who’s political views echo those of the movement that gave the party it’s name could become it’s leader and steer it back where it came from. In the last few days however I’ve started to wonder if Jeremy Corbyn winning will be such a good thing, because even if he does the Labour party will continue to be run by people who think that winning elections is a valid aim in it’s own right and that the way to achieve that goal is to convince people who voted Conservative to vote Labour. Now any sensible left-thinking person would never vote Conservative, which means this strategy is leaving a huge number of people behind. So I’m starting to think that it would be better if Mr Corbyn, someone who I agree with 90% of what he says, didn’t win, because then we can write the Labour party off once and for all and do something different.

It’s worth noting that I’ve never voted Labour because they don’t represent my views, but I know that they should. My grandmother was active in the trade union movement and my Dad once said to me “If your gran was alive to see what’s happened to the Labour party she’d be spinning in her grave”.

A “return” to Facebook

This week, following a 2 year(?) sort of absence from Facebook I decided to go back to it. I say sort of because I never actually left, I just deleted all my friends. That might seem like a weird thing to do on a social network but previously I’d tried to get off it by suspending my account, but it turned out all you had to do to get back on it was log in. So I decided to make it a bit harder to go back by deleting all my friends. I was a bit concerned at the time that some people I don’t know quite so well may actually have been offended that I “unfriended” them. I think some people take it a bit more seriously than they should, considering that after all, it’s just a website. I kept my account because I was running a fairly busy group, and a member of some other groups, as well as having a page for my business. So I’ve continued to use it quite a bit, just not the way most people do.

There were two reasons for “leaving” in the first place, one was because of privacy concerns but the main one was because I didn’t think it was very good for me. I had become pretty addicted to it, constantly checking to see if anyone had posted anything new and I came to realise that it made me feel like I was in touch with people when actually I wasn’t, at least not in any kind of meaningful way, and as a result actually made me less sociable. The other thing about Facebook is that it can actually make you feel a bit down. Generally people are the best version of themselves online and probably one of the most common type of post on Facebook is “here are some photos of a fun thing I did” and even if you don’t think it consciously, I think there’s only so much of that anyone can look at before feeling left out and a bit rubbish about themselves that they’re having less fun than, apparently, than everyone else they know. My thoughts on the privacy side of things started before anyone had heard of Edward Snowden, several years ago when I went to the cinema to see a documentary called Erasing David about how easy it is for anyone to find out personal information about you by what you put online, and information held about you by companies and organisations. So for that reason, as well as deleting my friends I removed nearly all personal information about myself – interests, location, previous workplaces, schools attended etc.

The reason for going back was that Facebook has become so ubiquitous (I think that’s the right word) that if you’re not on it you get left out of things. That’s not so bad when you see people regularly as you get to hear about things anyway, and not everything that happens is put on Facebook, but partly due to moving house multiple times in the last year I’ve got distinctly out of the loop with most people I know and wanted to re-connect. So I’ve set up a new account just for the friends aspect of the site, the idea being that I will only need to check it when I get an email saying I’ve got an event invite or a message. Whether I can be that restrained and not go back to justifying the term “facecrack”, we shall see.

PS I had no idea I had so much to say about Facebook, quite a long post!

Oh no not another blog!

I’ve decided to join the long list of seven zillion people who write a blog as if anyone cares what they think. It’s more for my own benefit than anything else as I think quite a lot about a lot of different things and this might help me make sense of it all. Also if it helps me find people who think some of the things I do then I’ll feel less like one of the few sane people in an insane world. If anyone reads this they can expect very irregular posts to follow it on a range of topics they may or may not find interesting. Cathartic, I think that’s the word I was looking for.

PS Yes there are posts before this one, from when I though this domain was going to be a professional portrayal of myself, but it seems a shame to delete them since I took the time to write them.

Co-op – the bank who don’t understand small businesses

Last year I started a gardening business. I did ok and put a lot of work into building up a customer base and got quite a bit of work, but gardening work is very seasonal and I didn’t make enough to see me through the winter. The first year was always going to be tough, it’s just one of the realities of starting any small business. Instead of getting into debt I decided to spend the winter staying with family, resolving to take what I’d learnt in my first year (a lot) and come back to it in the spring with a much better sense of how to make it a viable year-round business.

I’ve only been back to it a couple of weeks and I was asked to do a job for which I needed to order a large amount of materials (roughly double the labour cost). Last year I didn’t do any jobs involving material costs just because they tend to be the bigger projects, which I avoided because I was still establishing a group of contacts I could call in for help.

Partly because the reason I got the job was the customer had been ripped off by a cowboy, and partly because I think it’s important to project an image of success in business, I hadn’t asked the customer to pay anything up-front. Unfortunately as both the companies I was ordering supplies from are small businesses themselves, and I’d never done business with them before, they wanted payment upfront.

Frustratingly I was just £50 short. No problem I thought, I’ll just call the bank and ask for a temporary overdraft facility, it’s just a cash-flow problem I’m sure they’ll be able to help. Well it turned out I was wrong. I called the bank and was told that someone from the lending department would call me back. Fair enough I thought, and someone rang me within an hour. I explained that I just needed a £50 overdraft facility for a few days and was told that because there had been very little turnover on the account in recent months that this wasn’t possible. I explained that this was because it’s a gardening business so seasonal by nature, but was still told no. It’s that old banking adage that to get a loan you have to prove you don’t need one.

I would have thought that they would be more willing to help. Don’t the Co-op bank understand that cash-flow problems are one of, if not the most common problem faced by small businesses? As the go-to bank for members of the Federation of Small Businesses you’d think they would, and when you’re only asking to borrow £50 it really doesn’t seem like too much to ask.