It’s Not Norwich

It’s Not Norwich



Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how much beautiful mystery you can offer, no-one wants to be an ambassador for your brand.

Lowestoft, the coastal town in Suffolk that I’ve called home for the past three years, is one such brand that no one wants to support. The locals rarely have a good word to say about it, and the rest of the country treats it as something of a joke.

When you’re faced with a brand like Lowestoft, you have to use negative marketing – you have to take the complaints, and make them  sell your brand.

The two main complaints about Lowestoft, from locals, are:

. “It’s not Norwich” (the sentiment, if not the actual words. Norwich is our nearest city, 30 miles away. If you don’t have a lot of spare cash, it’s not that great.)

. “There’s nothing to do”

Below is an example of a marketing plan using both of the above complaints, for “brand Lowestoft”:


“In Norwich, you can’t watch the sun play over the ocean at the most Easterly point in the UK.  In Norwich, you can’t enjoy a pint and a some crisp, golden chips looking out over the open sea, the wind ruffling your hair, the sun warm against your face. In Norwich, you can’t enjoy an ice cream in the middle of lazily-playing fountains, or watch a shoal of goldfish gleaming through the ripples of a pond in front of a restaurant in a public park.

In Norwich, there are no shadowy scores that speak of smugglers and secrets, and the main shopping thoroughfares don’t feature quality independent shops and well-known chains sat side-by-side, a bright parade of potential purchases, and an ideal, intriguing way to while away a Sunday afternoon – perhaps as you walk off an early lunch at a seafront pub, or as you head down for a final seaside drink?

Nowhere in Norwich can you walk around the last fishing trawler of its kind to be built in the town, and see how her crew used to live and work.  Norwich’s museums don’t sit on the wild, rugged coast, or in public parks, offering a day out for everyone, not just the history buffs.

Norwich music doesn’t come complete with a sea view, and a restaurant right next door to the gig venue.

In Norwich, there’s very little opportunity to do nothing, very few places to just sit, or stand, and  simply be. Norwich doesn’t encourage loitering. To Norwich, buildings and parks, rivers and architecture, are just insignificant backdrops, rather than something that should be placed centre-stage, and spot lit.

There’s nothing to do in Lowestoft but step out of the rat race for a while, relaxing in the shade of Sparrow’s Nest, taking in sun, sea and sand on South Beach, or remembering bygone travels just outside the town proper at the Transport Museum in Carlton Colville. There’s nothing to do but walk along London Road North, perhaps calling in to Beales for homewares or stylish fashion, Waterstones for the latest best-seller, or Annatar’s for quirky, independent alternative gifts, and then head into the historic High Street, where the streets are still narrow, and the shadowy scores run steeply down to the sea.  Before you go any further, though, why not stop off at Coffee Heart, and enjoy a selection of cakes, sandwiches, and hot and cold drinks, including gluten free offerings, while your children explore the range of retro toys on offer? In Lowestoft, there’s nothing to do but head to South Beach, with its vast expanse of golden sand that’s just perfect for a game of Frisbee, and just a short walk from the independent shopping district of Kirkley, where you needn’t be shy of entering the Coconut Loft, which  offers excellent refreshment, a selection of art from local artists, and a delightful boutique deli.  

And if, after all that, you still want to visit Norwich, it’s less than an hour by train, which runs direct from Lowestoft, with the station in the centre of town, with trains running every hour to Norwich, Ipswich, and London, as well as Beccles, Woodbridge, and Halesworth.

Lowestoft: it’s not Norwich, but it’s close enough.”


Why We SHOULD Ask “Why Haven’t You Killed Yourself Yet?”

Why We SHOULD Ask “Why Haven’t You Killed Yourself Yet?”

Recently, there has been a wave of fury over the fact that PIP (Personal Independence Payments – a welfare allowance sometimes made in addition to basic UK disability support payments) assessors, who are NOT doctors, have been asking claimants “Why haven’t you killed yourself yet?” Disability News Service report.

It’s interesting, for a start, that the mainstream media hasn’t covered this. Perhaps they’re aware, as the social justice and alternative news sources seem not to be, that some questions, however unpleasant and upsetting, do need to be asked, and have a right to be asked.

“Why haven’t you killed yourself yet?” is creative negativity in action.  It asks a negative question in order to find a creative answer, one that can be worked with. When you haven’t killed yourself yet, even though you’re struggling, even though you can’t imagine things ever getting better, there’s a reason for that. You’re not still alive simply because you hadn’t got round to ending it all. Something is keeping you here – and, once it’s been established what that is, you can take that and run with it, working it into a sense of purpose that will help you work towards achieving whatever you want from life.

If you don’t know why you’re here, it’s very difficult to succeed – I know. I’ve been in that place, feeling that there was no point to my existence. Trying to kill myself. Failing. Turning up for work the day after.

I haven’t tried to kill myself recently, not because things are wonderful and I have no problems, but because, right now, even though the depression is still with me, even though I’m struggling to make self-employment financially viable, even though I’m trying to support my wife, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, with no help from anyone, and on very little money, even though I can’t afford to fix either the toilet or the boiler, I can – just about – cope. And if I can cope, I have no right to walk away and leave others to pick up the pieces.

My reason, my purpose, is that I believe in being responsible. Which means that my purpose is to find a position in which I have responsibility, and fulfil that responsibility as best as I am able.

When I’ve attempted suicide previously, the reasons haven’t been to do with there being no end to my troubles. The reasons have usually been that I could see how to resolve a situation, but I couldn’t afford to take the necessary action.

Poverty can kill – and we mustn’t pretend that’s not the case.

Nor must we leave people without a vital tool of self-knowledge by being afraid to ask difficult questions.

I’ve always had too much anxiety to manage submitting a PIP claim, so I’ve never been asked this question by an assessor. My wife, who was refused PIP, wasn’t asked it either. I’m not sure how many people are asked it, but I’m willing to bet those who do get asked are those who seem to lack a sense of purpose and direction.

No, the PIP system isn’t great – I personally object to the fact that people who are in full time employment can claim PIP: we have a national minimum wage that applies to disabled workers, too. You do what everyone else has to, and make a fully informed decision about whether you can afford to take a particular job or not. If you decide you can, then you live within the means of your wages, the way everyone else has to. I feel similarly about Working Tax Credits – if these options for didn’t exist, wages would go up, or prices would fall. People used to manage to have modestly decent standards of living before the national minimum wage, before Working Tax Credits. On the whole, these “benefits” are a salve, a way to stop the lowest-paid kicking up too much of a fuss about the tax cuts for the wealthiest.

In the 1950s – which the rose-tinted-spectacles-and-bigotry brigade believe was the best period in our history – the top rate of income tax was 90% or more. The wealthiest paid nearly all their earnings in taxation, which then ensured the rest of the country could be adequately maintained and improved.

Now, top-rate taxation is under 50%, and people are relying on top-up payments and food banks. Unemployment, insecure employment, and unpaid employment has skyrocketed. Prices are going up all the time. Public transport is either non-existent or unaffordable.

Why haven’t I killed myself yet? Because part of the responsibility I have is to be a voice in the desert of refusal to fully engage, the shelter and the storm against the pointless rage of social justice warriors, and the bigots they mimic whilst claiming to oppose.

Creative negativity is a vital and necessary skill to have – and I will gladly accept the responsibility of ensuring as many people have it as possible.

So – what’s your purpose and focus? Why haven’t you killed yourself yet?

Successful Illusion

Successful Illusion

Millennial men are earning less than any generation before them – to the tune of £12,500 (around $15,600) a year. Over £1,000 a month less than men before them, by the time they’re 30.

Meanwhile, we keep hearing that “the economy is rallying – house prices are up!”

Whoever decided to use house prices as a measure of a successful economy was either a consummate shyster, or completely naive, to the extent that they should be nowhere near any kind of role which involves making important decisions and announcements.

For a start, it isn’t “house prices” that are being used – although this is what we’re told – but rather the mortgage market.

In short, we measure the “health” of an economy by the inherently unhealthy habit of debt.

This illusion of success is portrayed as: “More people are being approved for loans, therefore people are earning more, which proves the economy is flourishing.”


The reason more people are approved for loans is because people have more loans – try getting even a small, short-term loan, or a catalogue, when you have never previously borrowed money. It’s nearly impossible. Yet, once you have a history of borrowing money, people will fall over themselves to lend you more. It’s the same mentality that has friends more willing to lend money to their well-off companions who’re “in a spot of bother” , for something those friends could easily do without, than to their unemployed friends who need that money for essentials.  If you have money, people will give you more. If you have debt, people will give you more.

If you have nothing – that’s your life, now and forever, unless you get exceptionally lucky.

When you run an economy – or a business, or your personal life – on someone else’s money, any success you have is only ever an illusion. However impressive, it can never be more than a glittering image, because it has been built on inherently unstable foundations.

Success that is built on what you have, and not a penny more, is less impressive, less spectacular, less far reaching. It rarely makes the headlines of even your local paper, let alone attracting national or international attention, yet it is more enduring.

Your duty, first and foremost, whether you’re leading your family or running a company, is to be enduring.

Debt is not enduring, and neither are the illusions it helps create.  Borrowed money means borrowed time. When you use only what money you have, however, you have all the time in the world to create something that will last. Something enduring.

Creative negativity is enduring. The things that go wrong for people tend to be repeating patterns, and tend to happen because of inherent flaws or inabilities in those individuals . Therefore, when you use your failures as the foundation of future success, you’re more likely to create an enduring, if not particularly spectacular, result, because, rather than trying to construct something entirely from scratch, you’re simply adding on to a strong, set pattern that’s already there, and changing its composition very slightly.

The illusion we have come to call success starts with the premise that “of course I’ll need to borrow money.”

Creative negativity starts with the thought of “If I use what I have, I will only ever lose that which, over time, I can regain.” Starting with nothing forces you to be both creative and  negative – you can’t afford dreams and ideals. You just have to get something, anything, done, with whatever you have to hand. You work around problems that other people use money to solve, and therefore gain more skills – and skills are what people may, one day, pay you for.

Creative Negativity and “In Solvency”

Creative Negativity and “In Solvency”

Is there worse to come?

The above is an article from today’s Eastern Daily Press, from one of Norwich’s leading insolvency firms, and warns that 2017 is likely to see a rise in insolvencies across the East of England.

I used to work in insolvency – albeit as a lowly admin – and I’ve heard, first hand, on the end of a phone I sincerely wished I hadn’t had to pick up, the pain and rage of people who take the impact of the punch to the gut that is a business going under.  Newsflash: those people are rarely the business owners. In most cases, they seem to dust themselves off and move on fairly quickly. Donald Trump isn’t an exception. He got his eventual success, in the form of becoming President of the USA. Most business owners who declare insolvency will go on to achieve success with another venture. Not all of them, of course, but enough to make you sigh and roll your eyes, wondering whether they’ve actually learned their lessons at all. Wondering if they are aware there were lessons to be learned.

The people who suffer most are those who had the least to do with the business failing. The shop floor staff. The admin crew. The cleaners. The people who had to hear me tell them they’d get £800 redundancy, after years – decades, in one case – of turning up day in, day out.

Those people, their pain, their rage, were the reason I wasn’t sorry to leave insolvency. The managers at the company I worked for (not McTear Williams Wood) made it clear that “those people” didn’t matter. We were there to help the directors and company owners get back on their feet.

But, of course, there will be business owners who are devastated by entering insolvency. People who’d poured their heart and soul, their hopes and dreams, and no small amount of time and money, into a goal, only to see it snatched away from them.

I’ve never gone into insolvency, but I’ve had to close a business, and cancel an event, because I literally didn’t have the money to continue. Both times, the loss triggered a bout of clinical depression. Both times, in the run up and the immediate aftermath, I felt suicidal.  I can well believe there are others, who do end up declaring insolvency, who feel likewise.

This is for all of them, all of you.

I now work in the sphere of creative negativity, which seems oxymoronic in the context of business insolvency. What possible roses could there be behind those thorns? And how can you be creative about insolvency, unless it takes the form of “creative accounting“, which is somewhat frowned upon?

Let’s break the word “insolvency” up, to start with.

“In” – belonging to, within, inside, bordered by, etc. A five year old child knows what “in” means.  So: we are in a position of being bordered by, for the sake of argument.

“Solvency” – the ability to pay one’s just and lawful debts. (The “just and lawful” is important. Remember it.)

So, when we face insolvency, which sounds like a failure, the first creative thinking we can apply is to break up the word, so that, instead of being “unable to meet just and lawful debts”, we are, in fact “bordered by the ability to pay (our) just and lawful debts.”

That puts a new spin on it. We are able to pay our just and lawful debts firstly by identifying which, in fact, are just and lawful – and which are the result of people taking advantage of us.

When I was preparing insolvency cases, the number of times overcharging on the part of suppliers or landlords, or inappropriately charged fees by banks, would only come to light at the point of insolvency was depressing. Businesses seem to love taking advantage of one another, viewing it as some sort of harmless game. (Of course, when the person you’ve been overcharging for goods you supply to them goes bust, odds are your business won’t be far behind… The game doesn’t seem quite so harmless now, does it?) Those were the debts that the insolvency firm refused to honour – they may have been lawful, but they were not deemed just.

There are many ways of “paying for” things, beyond the obvious, financial method. I’m sure we’ve all been told, at one time or another, that “you’ll pay for that” – it usually involved some sort of physical violence.

But we also “pay attention” – and that’s the ability to pay our just and lawful debts that insolvency gives us.

When you declare insolvency, you begin the final stages of running a business. You may be able to keep things ticking over, usually with the help of the insolvency firm who’re representing you, but you can’t do much else. Your main focus, perhaps for the first time, is your debts. You have been given the unique ability to genuinely pay attention to the ways in which you spend money.

We live, as a nation and society, in an era where credit is seen as an automatic and inalienable right. It is considered odd if someone doesn’t have a credit card, or at the very least an overdraft. Almost everyone has used “payday lenders”, some on a regular basis. We have store cards, catalogue payment plans. We see nothing wrong in asking our friends to lend us a tenner every now and then, and even less wrong in asking our families to lend us money to pursue our dreams.  Even the Jobcentre will offer “crisis loans“, to people who will never have money of their own to repay them. Businesses run in constant debt to their employees – when you work for someone else, you are paid in arrears, for time you have already given. This becomes manifestly true when you are paid hourly, which often results in people working through illness, because they can’t afford the loss of pay that would result in taking a day off.

Because credit – and therefore debt – is seen as part of the normal functioning of a stable society, we never really think about the debts we’re accruing. We don’t pay attention to the ways in which we spend money. Not until a crisis hits, and forces us to pay attention.

This – the point of paying attention to our debts – is where creative negativity comes in.

Look at your debts.

Pick up two felt tips – one green, one red.

Look at your debts again.

With the red felt tip, mark every debt you had been paying without really thinking about it. Maybe it had been paid by direct debit, or you simply tossed it onto some admin’s desk with a brief “Give them a call and pay that off, would you?” Maybe you even paid them yourself, cheerily greeting whoever answered the phone, not a moment’s pause as you rattled off payment details.  In terms of personal debt – because personal insolvency is a fact – perhaps you even smiled while you were paying that debt, remembering the pleasure the goods the debt had bought you gave you.

With the green felt tip, mark the debts you were actively aware of paying. The ones, perhaps, that weren’t always easy to pay.  The debts you invariably paid late – or had your admin team make excuses for your not paying. The debts you paid with debt – paying them off on a credit card, for instance.

Now look at the debts you’ve marked in red. What do they represent? What did that credit buy you? Write it all down, every last detail of it.

Do the same with the debts marked in green.

Do you see any patterns?

In my personal life, before my self-employment began to stabilise, it was fairly common for me to pay my water rates late. Not by much – a week at most, ten days, once.  The bills I paid without thinking were mobile phone top ups, the monthly direct debits for the internet, and for my pension.

The pattern? I didn’t think about things I’d chosen to have, and that fulfilled intellectual and emotional “necessities” – communication, and security. Those things were so important to me that of course I would pay for them promptly.

Having clean water readily accessible, however… (I justify this to myself by pointing out that, at the time, and still, my toilet is blocked and my boiler broken: things aren’t financially stable enough, without credit cards or loans, which are outside my ability to procure, to attend to these things. I have water, but it’s not hot water.)

When you don’t have a lot of money, you end up thinking about every debt. But there are some you resent paying, and others you don’t. Everyone moans about the price of bread: no one complains at the cost of champagne.

What patterns have you identified? The debts you pay without too much thought or pain, that you pay on time, are the things that are important to you.

Knowing what those things are will tell you what you need to focus on in your next business venture, your next job.

For me, the important things, the areas of my focus, are communication, and security.

I communicate by writing, in ideas and words.  As to security? When I look at the things I’m regularly paid for, I realise I’m being paid for providing others with the security of reliable, high-quality results. I’m offering the security of a new way of looking at personal and business problems, and, with that, the security of knowing you can get through them.

When you’re facing insolvency, you’re bordered by the ability to pay attention to your just and lawful debts. To take a look at them through the lens of creative negativity, and see the patterns that are creating the tapestry of your life. The threads of endings, and of beginnings.

What’s your focus? And what are you doing, what are you going to do, to follow it?

The Decline of Risk

The Decline of Risk

“If you can make one heap of all your winnings,

And risk it all on one turn of pitch and toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings,

And never breathe a word about the loss…”

(Rudyard Kipling, “If”.)

Risk has always been big business. Risk drove the housing market into the stratosphere. Risk is what fuels consumer credit. Risk built an entire sector – the financial sector. Risk is what makes sports exciting, why we play the lottery, why kids love arcade games.

Risk is what keeps us alive, and, ultimately, what kills us. We live because we take risks – the risk of being excluded from a group we want to join, the risk of being turned down for our dream job, the risk of being mocked by the person we fancy, the risk of a pregnancy not working out, the risk of going bankrupt buying a house or starting a business, the risk of regretting the decision to jack in our job a few years early and go travelling – and we die when the “turn of pitch and toss” doesn’t go our way. When risk bites back.

We will die because of risk, but we will also die if we don’t take risks.

Society has been slaughtered by risk run amok, risk that was released from any kind of supervision or control. Risk made without judgement.

But now, we stand in real danger of society dying because of an increasing unwillingness to take any kind of risk.

High Street book shops are stagnating because mainstream publishers refuse to take risks on unknown, exciting, genre-free authors, and haven’t caught up with the fact that the book buying public isn’t going to buy another 400 pages of the same story in a different place, with different people.

The arts are dying because governments aren’t funding them, and artists have become too used to being funded by the Establishment, and won’t risk trying something new, trying other ways to get the show on the road.

The economy is dying, because employers are unwilling to risk accepting the paradigm shift that’s needed, to embrace ways of working that don’t involve expensive offices and close supervision.

Intelligence is dying, because teachers daren’t risk standing up against a rising tide of government meddling, and actually exposing children and young people to the lessons they need to learn, the sources that will light the individual sparks in all those children, and set a blazing love of learning, and of knowledge.

Manners and compassion are dying, because no one will risk disciplining people when they fall short.

Society is dying, because no one will risk a “Hello” to a stranger.

People are dying, because no one will risk radical care, medicine that is more than medication, support that is more than just keeping difficult people out of sight.

The decline in risk is a fear-fuelled response to the death toll of ungoverned risk, which came in the form of mortgage defaults and corporate collapse, evictions and dismissals.

But the thing is, that risk was only culling the old and the sick. Those institutions, lifestyles, and people were already dying.

The reaction to it, the decline in risk taking across the board, is attacking the healthy, the vital, the necessary. It is killing everything that keeps us alive.

The world needs you to take a risk – now, today, forever.

What will your risk be?

Facing Today’s Thorns

Facing Today’s Thorns

Yesterday, I, along with many other people across the world, was furiously, violently angry. Whether I was righteously angry, only time will tell.  But I was angry – and I am not ashamed of that anger.

Why was I angry? Not, despite surface appearances, because someone whom, from what I’ve seen and heard of them, I intensely dislike, and think is a thoroughly reprehensible human being has been handed a job for which he has, from what I can gather, no experience or qualification.

I was angry for many reasons, but not “just because Trump got elected.”  Unqualified people get promoted to valuable, influential jobs all the time – if I got angry about that, I’d never get anything else done, and would have probably dropped dead from stress, a heart attack, or stomach ulcers by now.

1. I was angry because men like me – genuinely decent men, who were raised to treat women as equals, to accord them respect, to work with them in genuine partnership, to accept their answers, even when we didn’t like them – have been told, from possibly the most powerful country in the world, and, it turns out, by a significant number of women, that we’re “not real men.” Because real men grab pussy. Real men don’t respect women. Real men take what they want, and treat people like property. Real men are crass, violent, vulgar, and objectionable.  By those lights, I’m not a real man. My father wasn’t a real man. My uncle and cousins aren’t real men.  My best friend’s husband isn’t a real man.  My closest male friends aren’t real men.  The three best bosses I’ve known in my working life weren’t real men.  I am angry because America at large has invalidated the gender, identity, and personhood of many decent, hardworking, dedicated men – men I know personally, and men far beyond my circle. We may not always behave appropriately, but we always try to. We may not always be our best selves, but we always aim to be. We may not always give 100%, but that is always our intention.  And we have been told, loudly, clearly, whilst being  mocked for our “not-alpha-male” attitudes and behaviours, that it’s all a waste of time. That we’re just losers, destined to watch men who have no intention of trying to be good, of giving of their best, succeed.

2. I was angry because there are children – boys, girls, and non-binary young people – who have seen the lie in the words “bullies never prosper.” A generation will grow up thinking that bullying and demanding and indulging in violence is the way to get what you want.

3. I was angry because, yet again – just as it was with Brexit in the UK – intelligence has been mocked and derided. I’m sick of hearing “the people who do well in business are those who aren’t academic”,  “We’ve had enough of experts”,  “the wisdom of the crowd is what counts”, “Intellectuals, hiding away in their ivory towers…”  I’ve had enough of someone else’s opinion being held to have as much value as my factual knowledge or lived experience – or, indeed, anyone else’s factual knowledge or lived experience.  Certainly, those who have non-academic skills should be respected – I currently have no heating or hot water, and, while I could probably get a Shakespeare scholar for free, what I really need is a plumber, or a heating engineer – but I can’t afford those services.

4. I was angry because I’m tired – fundamentally exhausted – of peoples’ inability to see beyond their own lives.  I will be dead, probably in the next 40-50 years. The world isn’t mine – it belongs to those who will come after me, and my decisions should be what will be best for them, not me.  Everyone’s decisions should be based on what will be best for those who will come after us.

Those are the thorns I have to face today, in order to grasp tomorrow’s roses.  I have to look yesterday’s result, and the anger it called forth, in the face, and work out what and where the creative negativity is in all of this, and how to use it.

Firstly – anger is good, because its positive counterpart is passion, and passion is what gets things done. Passion is what keeps people turning up and giving 100% to a job, day in, day out, year in, year out, even on the tough days, the bad days, the days it would be easier to just stay in bed.  Passion is what keeps a couple together for half a century or more, despite the rows and sulks and stresses and broken crockery. Passion is what gets books written, funds raised, and, ultimately, passion is what gets worlds changed.

Secondly – knowing what you’re angry about tells you what you should be focusing your energy and time on. In my case, that’s promoting genuinely decent men, standing  up to bullies, and ensuring that intelligence is focused in practical, world-improving, life-enhancing outlets – the only way it will ever be truly respected.  My energy should be focused on promoting facts, as calmly, rationally, and relevantly as I can, on drawing attention to the genuine, decent, gentlemen that I know from personal experience abound, in finding ways to encourage boys to become men like me, men like my father, men like the friends I have, men like my uncle and his sons, and in finding ways to encourage girls to believe that they, too, are capable of leadership.

I may have to accept that “the world is what it is” – but I refuse to accept that I always and inevitably have to work with “what the world is” – if what the world is is unacceptable to me, and runs counter to the things I have decided to invest my time and energy in, then I will accept that “the world is what it is” – but I will actively work against the world as it is. Not through violence or criminal acts, but through the action of water against stone – washing over the stone of an unacceptable world with a quietly eternal countering force. Because the thing about water is, not only will it eventually wear down even the strongest stone, but it can also do something that is beyond stone – water can provide power, and sustain life.

How to Save the Planet? Damn the People

How to Save the Planet? Damn the People

Misanthropes are – probably – going to be the planet’s heroes, the ones who save the wild from the greed and utter cluelessness of the rest of their kind.


Because misanthropes don’t care about human stories, and so can focus on the hard facts around climate change – the facts that, yes, it has happened, and would happen, without us, but that yes, we are accelerating global warming, melting ice caps, rising sea levels. We are ensuring that more people, on a more frequent basis, are impacted by famine, flood, or drought.  And we are ensuring that there is nowhere left for our species to migrate to. We are apex predators with no one coming along to do a periodic cull – because we have agreed that war is A Bad Thing, we try and avoid it – or, at least avoid it targeting the developed nations that are causing a lot of the problems, and are best placed to limit their damage.  Our population has become unsustainable, but, because we are apex predators with enlarged frontal cortexes, thumbs, and the capacity for abstract thought, we are not limited, as more natural creatures would be,  by the extent of our available resources: we can always make more. We demand more, we howl and rage in indignation when it is suggested that we should only eat meat once or twice a week, that we should walk to any location that’s less than 3miles distant, if we are physically able, that we should holiday at home, in places readily accessible by public transport, that we should look into public transport and lift share options first, rather than just hopping into the car. We had to be charged actual money – a token amount – before we thought about taking bags with us when we did our shopping.  We even moaned about how long it took eco-friendly light bulbs to produce a glow by which we could read.

Oliver Burkeman, in New Philosopher, points out that humans are generally more concerned by crises that have a human story to them, and one that is readily accessible and easy to relate to – humans are naturally xenophobic creatures: for rich white folk, the human stories of ‘poor brown people’ don’t matter so much, it seems.  People didn’t much care about the global financial crash of 2007-2008 until they saw pictures of fired bankers carrying out boxes of possessions, or people who’d had their homes repossessed who were left with nothing.  We care more about the person who illegally parks in front of our home or apartment block, more about the neighbour who lets their dog crap all over the street, than about the things that will destroy the planet we rely on for life.

And that’s the problem: we’re so smug, so arrogantly certain of our unlimited intelligence and ability, that we believe we can just ‘get another planet.’ We’re spoiled children who’ve never been thrashed, yelled at, and made to clean up our own mess.

Burkeman suggests we put the most mental effort into solving the problems that provoke the strongest emotional reactions in us – and that climate change doesn’t come high on many peoples’ lists.

This is my Top Five of ‘Things That Make Me Mad!’, in order:

  1. The unfairness of the current labour market system, which is geared towards those with a  socioeconomic advantage, and those who see nothing wrong with lying and cheating – people who hire freelance writers to do their essays and dissertations, I’m looking at you.
  2. People who don’t pick up their dogs’ mess – I have 4 dogs, and I manage to clean up after them.
  3. The loss of genuinely wild places – I don’t like tourist trap coastlines, or manicured parks. I want sprawling heathland with scrubby copses of native trees, I want furious surf hurling itself in a rage at a rugged, battered shoreline. I want there to be places nature has rendered inaccessible to me, places I can only admire from a distance.
  4. Human arrogance and human greed, the refusal to accept that, apex predators though we may be, we are still bound by the inflexible laws of nature. One day, we will have lost too many resources to replace.  Earth can live quite happily without us. We can’t do so well without it.
  5. The hunting, for pure sport, of animals.  Hunt for food, cull to manage population numbers and preserve resources.  Leave alone the breeding-age females, and the young. Take what you need, and use all you can.

I am an unrepentant misanthrope. Not the worst of the breed, but definitely of the breed. I am not moved by human stories, I don’t readily do cognitive empathy, and, where I do empathise, it may still not move me to action on another’s behalf.  Humans have tried to hurt me. Humans have rejected me. Humans have seen me homeless and destitute. Humans have treated me poorly, have mocked me, have put me at risk.  The wild things and wild places have done nothing to me.

I don’t hold nature and wildness in some sacred regard – the natural world is brutal, terrifying, and merciless, but, like all brutal, terrifying, merciless things, it has its moments of spectacular beauty, and awe-inspiring majesty, too.

Surfers are often environmentalists not because they are ‘hippies’, but because their primary relationship is always with the ocean. The tides are their tribe, first and foremost, and they stand for the life and the rights of their tribe.

I am not an environmentalist – I am a rationalist: if we strip the planet of everything it has, if we kill bee species, if we pollute the oceans and poison the air – we stop living. We may not entirely die out, but we will return to life before the industrial revolution – lives of mere survival that would be, as Thomas Hobbes says: “Solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”  Merely surviving isn’t sufficient for me – if I must be here, among humans, I want to live.  I want to enjoy being an apex predator with thumbs, to enjoy exercising my capacity for abstract thought and creativity, but I want to do so with a full and wonderful range of world around me – and with plenty of wildness for the times humans become too much.

Looking At Shadows From A Cave

Looking At Shadows From A Cave

Plato, in discussing the impact of education (or a lack of it) on a society used the idea of prisoners in a cave Plato’s Allegory of the Cave to illustrate his point that, without education, we can only ever be looking at “shadows on the wall”, rather than what’s really going on.

I was reminded of this when I recently heard the idea that, to know the future, we should “look at what the rich have.”  The speaker elaborated this point: “The rich used to have personal chauffeurs, and now everyone does – it’s called Uber. The rich used to have private holiday homes, and now everyone does – it’s called Airbnb.”

But – and it’s a big “but” – Uber and Airbnb aren’t “what the rich used to have, and now everyone’s got.”  The Uber driver is not employed by you. You pay what they charge you, not what you decide is a suitable salary.  You may not have Uber in your area – and you don’t have the power to bring it there.  Airbnb is just a digitalised version of what has always been available to those who aren’t “the rich” – lodging houses.

What we have is not “what the rich had before us” – what we have is shadows on the wall, poor impressions of what the rich had, which serve the purpose of keeping the majority of the non-rich quiet for the majority of the time.

Uber, Airbnb, Waitrose, Topshop… they’re all just placebo drops to make us believe we’re not doing too badly, that life really isn’t that tough.  Netflix and Starbucks make up for the fact that many people find themselves in insecure employment, being paid barely enough to make even very basic ends meet.  A cheap TV, the ability to get something that’s almost the dress or suit some catwalk model was wearing, soothes us away from thoughts about what kind of exploitation may have been involved in the making of such things, and gently closes our eyes to the declining living standards and abuses of power that are going on all around us.

It’s not really feasible, in most cases, to  renounce cheap fashion and electronics, or to boycott every company with unethical work practices – the very poorest in Western society would be left unable to shop anywhere, as their income limits them, in general, to unethical companies, because those companies’ products are the cheapest.

Personally, while I don’t have a TV, I do need a laptop in order to work. It’s best I have clothes (although I mostly buy these from charity shops), and, as I don’t have a garden, or much space on windowsills my dogs can’t reach, I need to buy my food, rather than growing/raising it myself. (If anyone wants to give away a remote cottage with a nice bit of land, somewhere in the UK, let me know…chickens, a couple of goats, veggies and fruits…that’s the kind of life I’d like, with or without other people around!)  Most months, I’ve only just made enough to cover the cheapest form of basic essentials (the joys of early stage, non-funded businesses started after several years of unsuccessfully applying for “traditional” jobs…) I’m looking into making my own, natural cleaners (lemon, white vinegar, and salt), and my food is fairly simple fare – pasta with something, couscous, chickpeas, hot or cold salads.

So, we need to take a creatively negative approach: we need to accept that we don’t have – and probably never will have – “what the rich have”, and look at the benefits of that situation:

. We don’t become reliant on any “labour saving” or “lifestyle” options. I recently got a second hand tumble dryer (useful, as it rains a lot in my part of the world, and I currently can’t afford to fix the central heating, so I can now guarantee getting clothes dry), but we still wash clothes by hand, in the bathtub. I’ve never had a car.  In most cases, when things come to you as a result of having saved up, or got a better-paid job, rather than as something that is simply a “fact of life”, you’re better able to cope when those things break down, or you can’t afford to have them. It’s frustrating to go back to a more labour-and-time-intensive way of existing, but it’s possible.   Life is a little more dull when you can’t get away on holiday, but you can cope without that specific, defined break away.

. We can more easily empathise with those who are less fortunate than we are – the current issue in the UK and America is that our politicians and journalists are people who have grown up with a certain level of “luxury” – holidays, cars, washing machines, tumble dryers, childcare – as a “fact of life.” It’s always been there, or they’ve forgotten the childhood in which it wasn’t there, and so they can’t imagine how other human beings can not have those things, unless those others are particularly stupid or lazy… These people have the loudest voices. They are everywhere, positioning themselves as the only voices you need to listen to.  When you encounter people at some remove from the voices of media and politics, you see more awareness and compassion, in general, for people who are struggling – because most (though, sadly, not all) people know that their “everyday luxuries” didn’t just fall from the sky.  My father was a very kind, considerate, and compassionate man, who would help anyone if he could, whether with words, deeds, or tangible things: he had grown up in a house without central heating of any kind, with a copper bathtub that was filled from the kitchen sink, and placed in front of the fire once a week, without a fridge or freezer – without even a kettle or toaster: toast was made under the grill of the oven, and hot drinks in a saucepan on the stove.  Washing machines and tumble dryers were very late additions to his life (he was in his mid-thirties before he had either in his house), and he spent the first 45yrs of his life without a car, getting about on foot or by bicycle.  He didn’t suffer fools, and was quick to (correctly) identify people who “wouldn’t take the effort to improve their life if you dropped it into their lap” – but he was never abusive, never hostile, never demeaning.  Because he knew the struggle that was involved in “bettering yourself”, or getting things that made life a little easier.

.We will be the ones who will survive when the inevitable mass failure of technology happens.  My father taught me the basics of trapping and fishing, as well as how to prepare what was caught, he taught me how to tell if a particular plant was good to eat, and what things could be eaten raw.  He taught me the value of manual labour, and the importance of being able to absorb, understand, and simplify complex information.  He taught me that in every managed forest, there will be logging roads that always lead to a main road, and that, if you follow a river downhill, you’ll reach some kind of port town eventually, which will usually have the means of getting at least close to where you want to be.

I didn’t grow up living in the mountains, or on some hippy commune – I grew up in a nice house in a nice village, in a reasonably wealthy county in England.  A reasonably wealthy county with a LOT of “hidden deprivation.”  Many of my primary school classmates left school unable to manage more than basic literacy and numeracy. Many were still in farming families, and were absent during harvest and lambing seasons. My father wasn’t a farmer – he was an electrician working maintenance at the local slaughterhouse.  One thing everyone in that village had in common, even the older people who, in a couple of cases that I knew of, couldn’t read or write at all, was common sense, common courtesy, and an intuitive understanding of the world and patterns around them.  They’re the “Gary In The Pub” that the middle classes love to mock, the “armchair economists/politicians” who are usually proved right in the end. They’ll never be recognised as such, but they are the real experts – and they are experts not because of any “natural wisdom” or the “wisdom of crowds” (which isn’t as wise as it claims), but because they pay attention to what is going on around them, and remember what has happened before.  The current generation, with shortened attention  spans and a preference for soundbites over substance, either forgets history, or doesn’t bother to study it in the first place. Patterns are “boring” and “pointless”, because they take time, effort, and attention to comprehend.

Back to the main point of this post, though: What is it, as a unified, whole concept, rather than the individual aspects of the concept, the rich have?

The answer to that question is simple:


The rich don’t have to go out to work – they have streams of passive income. They own companies in which other people work. They own property portfolios, and collect rents.  They never have to ask where they can “afford” to holiday that year – they pick somewhere, and go – for a month or two, not a week or two.

The rich don’t have to run their households – they employ other people to do that.

When the rich come across a new thing that interests them, they get involved in it – fully and completely.

The chauffeurs and holiday homes and yachts – even the money – are all just aspects of the core concept of leisure, which is the one, single, defining difference between the rich and the rest of us.

And the easiest thing to genuinely acquire.

. Instead of getting a job that you go to every weekday, come up with a strong franchise concept. Okay, you can’t charge the £10-20,000 (or more) that established business models charge for their franchise – but you could charge a couple of thousand, and commission on each site’s profits on top of that.  If two people a month – one person a fortnight – takes on a £2,000 franchise from you, that’s £48,000 in a year. And then you get commission on each site’s profits on top of that. Yes, this is turnover, not profit – you’ll be investing in marketing and promotion, in training, in recruitment, in maintaining the sites – but even if you only end up with £20,000 a year profit, you’re earning it in a way that allows you more leisure time than your 9-5 office job.

. Rather than paying a hotel for your next holiday, why not see if you can do a houseswap? Save up your leave entitlement, if you’re able to do that, and take off for a month.

.Give a neighbourhood teenager, or someone who’s struggling financially, a helping hand, and yourself a bit of free time – pay them to mow your lawn, or do the one-day-a-week main clean. Pay them to serve at, and wash up after, any parties you have.

These are small things – but they make a difference.  And remember: “leisure” doesn’t equal “idleness” – someone with “leisure” may very well still be working – but they don’t see it as “work” in the same way many people often do – as something to be endured, and escaped from.


Making Difficult Decisions


Today, the UK votes on whether to remain as a member of the European Union, or not.

Now, the important thing is, this is only a referendum – in UK law, the government doesn’t have to act on what the people decide.  And, in politics and business, that’s how it should be.

“The masses”, to use a sometimes insulting colloquialism, be they grass-roots employees or the average Joe on the street at a time of political upheaval, are like the proverbial blind man feeling an elephant – they will only ever have partial information, through no fault of their own, usually.

However, the “powers that be”, to use another sometimes insulting colloquialism, can, and often do, suffer from “Ivory Tower Syndrome” – they get so caught up in their experiences, they forget those experiences are not universal. They take their knowledge of a situation for granted, forgetting that not everyone else will be privy to it. They fail to realise that other people, in other circumstances, may not share their priorities.

On any issue, you will always end up with various groups, all of whom are only partially informed.

The people who will be responsible for leading the organisation/country through the results and attendant changes of any decision will be the people at the top, while the grassroots folks will be the ones directly affected. (Power, and the wealth that frequently comes with it, protect people from consequences to an extent that is rarely fully appreciated.)  Therefore, it is VITAL that these two groups enter into a respectful, helpful, logical dialogue. Emotion can, and should, have a place in that dialogue, but it shouldn’t dominate.

However, once the dialogue is done, the decision still has to be made – and it is right and proper that those who have the experience to lead people through the impact of that decision are the ones, ultimately, to make it.

The British public may vote to leave the EU – but they may not comprehend the complexity of Britain’s agreements with the EU, the legalities surrounding a withdrawal, or the political consequences in respect to other, binding, international agreements, or the societal impact to Britain’s position and reputation in the world’s eyes.

They may vote to Remain in the EU – but not be privy to information regarding current tensions, the current balance of power, or the direction the EU may be heading in.

Those who, it would be hoped, have better knowledge and experience than “the man on the street”, or “the woman at the bus stop”, who are aware of the full gamut of existing and potential threats, opportunities, and impacts of leaving, or remaining within, the EU, should be the ones who – with input from those whose lives will be directly affected – make the final decision.

Democratic? Not really.

Best for everyone? Almost certainly.  If people were more able to put their emotions, personal concerns, and prejudices aside, if they were granted access to the full facts of a matter, if genuine, intelligent debate prior to the making of an important decision were encouraged and engaged with, then, perhaps, the people could be left to decide.

Until then, while it is right and proper that everyone be given the opportunity to have their opinion heard, I would prefer that lasting, irreversible decisions are made by people with full access to facts, not those subject to fear, prejudice, and assumption.

This isn’t just about Britain as a country – this is about business, groups of individuals, the world.

This isn’t just about the EU referendum – this is about every important decision, whether it is one faced by a country, a company, or a family.

Everyone has the right to an opinion, and the right to have that opinion taken into account – but only those in full possession of the facts of the matter, from all sides of it, should have the right – and the responsibility – to make the decision.

It is nothing short of abuse to delegate important, strategic decisions to those who have not been trained or equipped to appreciate their seriousness, or the impact of each and every possible decision.

Depression, or “Deep Rest Option”?

Depression isn’t glamorous.

Losing your temper with everyone and everything around you because you can barely think straight, realising you’re crying without knowing why, feeling the bubbles – hot and acrid, or ice-cold – of rage over who knows what overwhelming you, drowning you, isn’t glamorous.

Hating yourself, planning your death, isn’t glamorous.

Not showering for days at a time isn’t glamorous.

Barely remembering how to eat, because your hunger isn’t for food, isn’t glamorous.

Depression isn’t glamorous. But, sometimes, it’s what you need.

You need to be shut off from everything that had previously distracted you, made to focus on your pain, so that your brain is forced to focus on a solution to that pain.

Most of us go through life never knowing what it actually is that hurts – and yet it’s what hurts that, once we harness it and address it directly – is most likely to lead us to the life we want.

Few people ever got rich without solving a problem: depression forces you to focus solely on the problem, to live the problem – you just have to stay with it long enough for the immediate agony to pass, and the problem to become apparent.

If you have any other way of identifying the pain that will become your potential – take that way. Depression is a rough, half-forgotten path in country where you find yourself rapidly running out of oxygen, cut, bruised, and frequently lost. If you can find a paved road, clearly signposted – for the love of all, sacred and profane, take that road.

But, if it has to be depression, remember – sometimes, you’ve just been shunted on to the “deep rest option” of life, and, if you can survive it, something lasting will come of it.

It takes time – I’ve suffered from serious, debilitating depression for about half as long as I’ve been alive, and I’m only just beginning to glimpse the potential in the pain. Fifteen years on. A decade and a half, and a half dozen times I’ve nearly walked away.

It may take me another five years to fully grasp and begin to address the potential in the pain. It may take me another fifteen to realise my version of “success.”

I just have to hold on, and do all I can to make sure I have that time – I have to allow depression to be a “negative charge”, instead of just a negative.