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”:

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“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.”

 

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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?

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.

Why?

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.

On Being Free

 

 

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I recently had one of those moments where you realise that something you’ve blithely followed – taken for granted, almost – may not be… quite what you first thought. That, in fact, your feelings towards it may have changed.

In my case, the “something” was the plethora of “never work for free!” blogs, and the shift in my thought on that was sparked by a blog on the topic over on LinkedIn.

I realised, reading this blog, what I’d missed before: that the whole attitude of most people who write about “not working for free” is centred in a mistaken idea that, if you work for free, that means the person you’re working for doesn’t value you, that they’re taking advantage of you.

Maybe they are.

But, on the other hand, someone who genuinely has no budget – because no one’s paying them for anything, they’re not in a position to get a bank loan, and their crowd funding campaign netted them a lot of well-wishes and “Great idea!! comments, but no money, but is trying to get something – an event, or a small business – off the ground literally by their bootstraps – who NEEDS you to work for free, for the simple reason that they can’t do everything – no one can – and they need to eat and keep a roof over their head – may well value you far more than the company who pays you “what you’re worth.”

The person who needs you to work for free is likely to give you a hell of a lot of recommendation, because you helped them. Those recommendations may well lead to paid work – because a lot of people can afford to pay for services. They’re the ones who are likely to pay you first when they do get money, to offer to do things for you for free, and to remember you come Christmas.

The company that’s paying you “what you’re worth?” They’re not likely to do any of that, because they resent the fact that they’re obliged to pay you.

Of course, working for free all the time isn’t feasible -utilities companies want to be paid in real money, so does your landlord or mortgage lender, you have to pay real money for your groceries, your fuel, your bus fare. Life costs money, and, until wealthy governments decide that a good idea, since we’ve pretty much been hurled into their beloved “gig economy” (which, you notice, they take no part in….), is to pay a basic wage of £10,000 a year to every citizen of working age, those who are physically and mentally able will be expected to get that money by working.

But these “never work for free” blogs always seem to be written by people with high-level experience, either working for or with very well-known companies, or running a successful business. They’ve got money to live on. They don’t need more. Once or twice a year, it wouldn’t kill them to help someone out who genuinely needed it. Someone who, for one reason or another, couldn’t access the labour market. Couldn’t get a bank loan. Hadn’t been able to make money through crowdfunding – but still had a sound idea.

If you already have money, you don’t always need to be paid in money – maybe the person who can’t offer you money would be happy to do something for you, for free, in exchange. Or they’ll promote you – on their blog, at their event, on social media. That’s payment, too.

The blogs are never about how to get people to pay you actual money – just that you should treat people who can’t like the scum of the earth.

Imagine if no one ever worked for free. Think of all the projects and businesses that would never have got off the ground. Think of all the support services that wouldn’t be available. Think of all the parents who wouldn’t be able to be involved in the labour market, because the grandparents they relied on for childcare wanted the going rate. Think of how much higher your taxes would have to be, as the government found itself having to support people who couldn’t afford childcare, and so couldn’t go out to work, as it found itself having to pay for services previously run by volunteers.

I’ve been treated with utter contempt by people who were paying me “the going rate”, and with nothing but genuine kindness, absolute respect, and a desire to speak up for me and promote me by those who could pay little or nothing.

If I could, I’d work for free on projects that interested me, because I’ve had better experiences.

But I need to eat, pay bills, and keep a roof over my head, too – so it’d be great if someone, somewhere, would pay me for something, whether it’s the services I offer through my own business, or doing something else within their business.

Once I had enough money to live on? I’d still be involved in a couple of projects that don’t pay, because they bring other kinds of rewards.

My worth isn’t how much money I make – if it were, I’d’ve killed myself out of shame a long time ago.

My worth is in the opinions of my genuine friends, in people acknowledging that I have done something well, to a good standard, and in a timely fashion.  It is in knowing that people choose to come to me for advice or information.  It is in knowing I have seen and survived things that would have destroyed others. My worth is in knowing that I’m walking the walk, daily, of my talk about how, if we were all “decent human beings”, if we all helped where we could, nobody would be left wanting.

I’m currently trying to get an event off the ground whose focus is bringing people together, and celebrating diversity – but I’m terrified to ask anyone to be involved, because I can’t pay them because, at the moment, no one’s paying me. I’ve got to somehow raise the money to cover the venue costs. Once I’ve done that, my intention is to give a small financial consideration to each of the performers and helpers, and donate the rest to humanitarian charities working with marginalised groups, locally, nationally, and internationally.  I will take nothing from this event – which may not even work out, because the world that refuses to pay me has made me so afraid of asking people to work for “nothing”.

Flowers From Burn Out

Apologies for the drought of posts recently – though I think the title of this post hints at the reason for that.

Living with a mental health condition is challenging. Sod that – it’s downright hard. Challenges are usually enjoyable, on some level, while you’re engaging with them, and provide you with the warm glow of achievement at the end.

Mental health issues in flare are hell while you’re going through them, and just leave you exhausted.

But burn out – whether thanks to pre-existing mental health issues or out of the blue – is kind of like a wildfire. It’s a shock when it happens, you worry about the damage it’s going to do…and then, when it’s over, and you’re looking at what’s left, you realise that, one day, there’s going to be new growth on that patch of land where, before, the old ground level growth was strangling everything. You see the layers of ash, and realise that the charcoal is going to provide valuable nutrients to the soil.

For me, the burn out came about as a combination of living with mental health issues, and thinking I had to be “normal” in every way – including putting my ambitions, self-employment wise, aside to get a full-time, “normal” job – any job, as long as it paid.

I couldn’t do that, it turned out. I can’t fake passion for something. I don’t really grasp social skills well enough to manage interviews. My self-esteem has been too brutalised for too long to be much good at selling Me,Inc. At the same time, I have no intention of “not doing anything” – I need activity, I need to feel that I’m being productive, I need a focus.

But my life, up to today, for the past few weeks, at the very least, has been nothing but dust and ashes.

Now, though, the green shoots are coming through – the green shoots of being awarded paid writing work, by people who don’t know me. The green shoots of having ideas for ways to expand Negative Is Also A Charge, and reach new, diverse audiences, who maybe wouldn’t respond to writing, and have no need for a public speaker.

I won’t “just forget about” traditional jobs – but I will focus on identifying and applying for those I’m actually interested in, that I could talk about with passion, and do with full commitment and attention, rather than with half a mind on when I could legitimately have my next cup of coffee.

And I also have a meeting scheduled on the 3rd September to discuss another, completely different, business concept, that I’ll need financing to bring to reality – a new vision for recruitment, where people, rather than positions, are what’s promoted, where the onus is on employers to make the effort and state their case, to prove their worth. Those looking to pursue self -employment will have access to mentors, retired professionals from a variety of sectors.

The UK welfare system for the unemployed and disabled needs to change, drastically – it needs to be understood that, rightly so, employers aren’t interested in someone who’s only applied for the job “because the Job Centre said I had to”. They want, and deserve, people who are genuinely passionate about what they do, whether that’s helping create a clean, welcoming environment, selling double glazing, serving fast food, or managing a FTSE 100 company. People looking for work need, and deserve, a job that utilises their existing skills, and helps them develop new ones – not one that has them doing “make work” eight hours a day, 5 days a week.

Our society deserves a workforce that is passionate, and engaged – thinking about how they can add value, not how they can slope off a few minutes early. All societies deserve this. When you have a passionate, engaged workforce, doing jobs that suit them, challenge them, and genuinely appreciate them, you have a stronger economy, because customers and clients have a better experience, and are therefore likely to spend more money.

I don’t just want to live in, and benefit from, such a society – I want to be part of building it.