Saturday, 12 July 2014

Zero Hour Queen



Recently the Queen did a speech, the aptly named "Queen's Speech". The article for this particular noun is "The" – The Queen's Speech. "The" is the "definite" article, denoting a known noun or a one-off. We don't say "A" Queen's Speech just as we don't say A Moon when we refer to The Moon. Why? Because there's only one moon, and there's only one Queen's Speech – one per year. Which begs the question... what are we paying her for the rest of the time?

I haven't heard much from the Queen since she did that speech, a speech so riveting that a page boy fainted. She did pop up to smash a bottle of whisky on a big warship, but other than that she must have been working on other, more quiet, things or taking some time off.

But "work" has never been more important than now, with the vastly wealthy United Kingdom having realised that it's also incredibly poor. With public accounts in a mess, welfare spending has been squished; scrutiny has been levelled on people who are deemed to have too much undeserved stuff or space in their homes. Private employers have realised that they can't hire people unless contracts become more flexible. So how should UK plc deal with its most favoured employee, the Queen?


The Day Job. 
On Royal.gov.uk a day in the life of the Queen is set out. There aren't set hours but we are assured she works hard "reading letters from the public, official papers and briefing notes: audiences with political ministers or ambassadors; and meetings with her Private Secretaries..."

In the morning she scans the daily newspapers before being thrust 200-300 letters from the public, which have to be answered by staff. Then she receives a collection of policy documents, before perhaps having an official meetings with an ambassador or two. After lunch she might go on some kind of 'engagement'. She has about 430 such engagements a year, mostly to visit lord-lieutenants (the Queen's representatives throughout the land), but they could also include visits to schools, art galleries, homeless hostels, factories, and so on. 

A weekly evening meeting with the PM on Wednesdays at 6:30pm goes unrecorded, but, as we all know, David Cameron has nothing to say that is worth remembering seeing that most of it is lies. Some evenings she might go to a film premiere or charity concert, or some other event in which she has some kind of stake. On other evenings Buckingham Palace might hold a reception for a special event.

Makes it sound like a full day of work.

Wages. 
The Royal Household costs anything between £35m and £200m, depending on what you include as costs. The figure which is closer to the official Royal report (referring to the Sovereign Grant, i.e. money from Government) was an estimated £36.1 Million for 2013-14. That spreads out at £98,904 and 11p for every day in a 365 day year. Let's say she does a 48 hour week like many other hardworking citizens – 8 hours a day including Saturday, Sunday off. That comes to an hourly wage of £14,423.52. Not bad at all – and that's at the lower end of estimates.

One should bear in mind that this is the money given to the family, rather than thrust directly into the Queen's purse. But one should also consider that this figure doesn't include things like security, thought to be about £100 Million, and other expenses. With generous payouts going to the family, subsidising the work she does, you'd have to conclude that this setup is akin to an ordinary welfare claim. Indeed, most benefits claimants are in work, and Queen is no different.

Private Wealth. 
The Queen's private wealth is unknown. I find this is a little strange, seeing that whenever I have had to claim benefits, I'm sure I had to calculate and declare my private wealth (fortunately this is quickly done because I have nothing). Estimates of the Queen's net wealth go as high as £349,000,000 (2008).

Money raised for the UK. 
Money from the Crown Estate is seen as money brought in from the Monarchy, and the profits (£200 Million plus) go in to the UK Treasury (except for 15% which the Queen keeps). But it's not money that is earned by the Royal Family as such. If your local pub was in the Crown Estate, its profits would go to the Treasury, and the monarchy would get the credit for that. The money that comes in from the Crown Estate outweighs the amount officially given to the royals, but groups like Republic point out that this money is being raised regardless of ownership.

A counter argument to Republic could be questioning whether selling off, say, Regent Street – which is in the Crown Estate – would bring in more cash in the long term. Not with the way privatisation currently tends to work, one suspects. Crown Estate cash seems pretty dependable. Still, as a principle, it's still the case that beyond owning it, the monarchy do bugger all to bring in money from the Crown Estate.

Property. 
The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh have eight houses (4 official and 4 private): two palaces, three castles, one 'house' (which looks like a palace to me) and two 'lodges' in the grounds of one of the castles. Buckingham Palace has 19 state rooms, 52 Royal and guest bedrooms, 188 staff bedrooms, 92 offices, and 78 bathrooms. Other Royal residences are the homes of other family members, bringing the total to 10. There are 23 more which are unoccupied by Royalty – the Palace of Westminster, Somerset House, Edinburgh Castle, etc.

Conclusion. 
We're all in it together, said one wise man a few years ago. Times are tough, said another. The country is broke, said a third. If these things are all true – and why should we believe otherwise? – then surely no one could argue with a rethink of the Queen's contract, something more in line with the general trends of the new and appealingly buoyant labour market.

Statistics show that some 1.5 million new jobs have been created since 2008, putting about 30.5 million people in work (April 2014). The Spectator blog which explains why these figures are so "miraculous" has to admit that wages are still falling in real terms. There are 22.2m full time workers, 8.2 part-time workers, and 1.4m zero hours contracts and non-guaranteed hours contracts (ONS, April 2014). (Note that one person can have more than one zero hours contract.) "Self-employed" workers make up about 44% of the rise, according to the TUC.

This table from Gov.uk shows how worker's rights are changed by zero hours contracts (Employee shareholder, worker, and self-employed are all statuses of zero hours workers.



The great benefit of zero hours contracts is that, for the company, it's a zero responsibility contract. All those workers' rights that have been slowly accrued over painstakingly long and arduous union battles with capitalists are swept aside in one simple contract, especially if a company gives you a job but you remain nominally "self-employed". A quick search on Indeed shows jobs going for self-employed sales advisors, tele-sales people, event staff, drivers, etc. – these aren't people "working for themselves" any more than Ford's factory labourers were.

But that's not a problem, you see, because it's all about choice. Choosing a flexible contract to suit your lifestyle is like a Pakistani child having the "choice" to work for a dollar a day for Nike, or starve. Choice is important – no one's making you do anything.

On occasion the worker does legitimately want a no-strings-attached job, to coincide with an increasingly NSA culture. Students are an oft-cited example, but the Queen may well find that zero hours favours her "lifestyle" too. The average hourly wage on a zero hours contract is £9, which is a bit below the Queen's current £14,423.52 an hour, but for the flexibility of such a contract she can spend a little more time greeting friends, playing with dogs, and reading the papers (things the rest of us do for free). Or she could pull up her socks and start reeling out dozens of Speeches every week, smashing bottles into boats all over the place, doubling the "engagements" and pocket a half-decent wage as a result.

Which brings up another question. How would a zero hour Queen be able to afford all the servants, that blingin' carriage, and the upkeep of her sizeable abodes? £9 an hour just isn't going to cut it, even if she works a 60 hour week like a primary school teacher – she might still end up needing some taxpayer help! Oh, I think Iain Duncan Smith might have the answer...

In a Telegraph article Smith, orchestrator of the "bedroom tax"/"spare room subsidy", makes the case for cuts for people with too many rooms. "We have a problem that needs addressing," he writes. "There are over quarter of a million households living in overcrowded social housing in England alone and another 1.8 million households stuck on the social housing waiting list. It is not right to make families wait and wait for a house that is big enough, while other households on benefits are allowed to live in homes that are too big for their needs, at no extra cost."

Couldn't have put it better myself!

Under the new rules, people who receive money from the state are penalised if they have spare rooms to the tune of 14% for 1 extra bedroom; 25% if you have 2 or more extra bedrooms. That's a 25% deduction for the Queen, bringing her £36.1 Million payout down to £27,075,000, saving the taxpayer £9,025,000.

There's always opposition to the controversial bedroom tax, and we should expect nothing less from the Royals who are sure to say that these so-called "extra" rooms are all important. I'd direct those complainants to consider the disabled people who are penalised because they have an extra room containing equipment for their disability.

One has to remember that the bedroom tax is a 'nudge' policy to encourage families to find houses more suited to their size, to take responsibility for their lifestyle and play fair. Housing is scarce, it's true, so people should leave their homes and find tiny new ones for their lonely souls: the fact that these one bed homes hardly exist is not the issue. As for the Royals, a nice four-bed home in west London suburbia should be enough for the Queen and her husband, Prince Andrew, Prince Edward and wife, and their daughter. It's a lot more than many of us get, and just think how many rooms there are spread over their newly vacated palaces and castles! That's a lot of new homes.

Meanwhile, if they all get on their bikes and get down the JobCentre, then the whole family could be off benefits, which, in George Osborne's words, would be more fair to people "who get up, go out to work, pay [their] taxes and pay for those benefits."

We know this means a lot to Osborne, because he said, "we won’t stop until we make sure that everyone has the opportunity to enjoy the peace of mind that comes from having a job."

That's everyone.


The Tories also enjoy a good moral argument, opining that, for example, idle sponges on benefits are undeserved of social security even if prohibiting them makes little economic sense due to other costs incurred down the line. "Working Hard and Getting On" is the mantra for deserved poverty – i.e. badly paid job with long hours; those that don't work hard don't even deserve poverty – they deserve nothing. The fact that they have televisions is enough to condemn them as recklessly and unfairly benefitting from the foolish generosity of the State. With that logic, the economic considerations above can be disregarded, for the moral argument alone would be enough to state with some certainty that the Queen's wealth and continuing welfare payments are undeserved, and hence should be stopped.

We're often told that things like social security, wage rises, pensions, job security, and employment rights have to be considered against the backdrop of economic reality. But when you're dealing with figures such as £1,268.7 billion for the net public sector debt (in March 2014) and much more for private debt, it's seems that reality left us long ago.

But what could be a bigger disavowal of reality than having a Queen? There by bloodline and "divine right", immune to meritocracy and democracy, trotting out a job which is purely symbolic. Of course once you start looking into it, all of the Queen's work seems a little tenuous, and disbanding the whole show seems like a better idea than changing the contract to a zero hours one. But I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. Let her stay on as a zero hour employee, working for her crust. We don't want her back on benefits after all!


Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Gettin' Righteous with the Feedback

I'm not one to poke my head out and get all riled up but the BBC's been getting my goat of late. I like the BBC as a principle, and often in practise too. Sure, BBC3 and it's down with the kids schtik is a bit grating, and the strange gloss that is liberally pasted over a BBC 1 show makes it undeniably cringeworthy, but that stuff's for other people who aren't me. And that's what the BBC's about – making programmes for people that aren't necessarily me. This is why important programs that don't bring in the viewers are kept on the air. They have a duty to give information, to teach, to be impartial.

Sometimes this quest for impartiality makes for some strange viewing. Let's say you have a front page story – a man's been caught having sex with his goats. Well you can bet that the next day BBC will have some spokesperson from the Foundation for Animal's Rights to Marriage (FARM) putting forward the case for bestiality in the name of a balanced debate. It can mean that some strange and infrequently held views are given inappropriate airtime. A good example is climate change – despite a tiny minority of scientists disputing anthropogenic climate change, the BBC are compelled to invite on some smug, populist sceptic to wave his arms and say it's all a conspiracy. Here James Delingpole laments the BBC's ignorance for siding with "scientists". Pesky scientists, with their "evidence". Another strange situation is that "balance" requires not taking sides in the Israel-Palestine troubles, despite the fact that the crimes have been overwhelmingly perpetrated by Israel. The BBC is generally criticised as being unreasonably pro-Palestine, as this 2006 article by Michael Gove shows.

Ukip are a right wing party, it might not surprise you to hear, and recent darlings of the BBC (and many other media outlets). There's even a website, (IsNigelFarageOnQuestionTime.com) dedicated to informing the curious viewer whether Nigel Farage is on Question Time on any given week. Since 2010, the pint-swilling populist has been Question Time's joint-most-frequently-invited guest along with Labour's Caroline Flint. 

Still, the BBC get a lot of verbal excrement thrown at them by the right for being a Stalinist propaganda arm of the state. Read any number of right wing newspapers for this attitude. Peter Hitchens is a great example. He complained about the Radio 4 program What the Papers Say giving him a silly voice. They do that to all the journalists they imitate, the only difference with Peter is that his voice is silly in real life. Was Peter a little offended, perhaps? Maybe a little political correctness in the BBC is in order, hmm, to stop them satirising poor lowly irritant toffs such as himself, maybe. He also complained about the BBC misrepresenting an article he wrote about Ukip, and then he made out that the fact that they apologised made the BBC even worse

One wonders if Peter and his ilk might have some interests at hand. Like perhaps organisations that criticise the BBC might have something against, say, the principle of public ownership in general. Well the Daily Mail's not exactly one to champion public ownership, owned as it is by the shifty Lord Rothermere who doesn't believe in paying taxes on this profits, and hence doesn't. And what about Murdoch's papers? No surprise that News Corporation is no fan of its big British rival – it can't even stage a take-over. The Centre for Policy Studies enjoys a good BBC bash. Founded by Margaret Thatcher and a few other neoliberal greedy-types, it promotes free markets. The BBC is public and – deep breath – regulated

The uniting criticism is that the BBC is run by a 'liberal elite', and these critics want to swap it with a conservative elite. But the accusation of left-wing bias doesn't really ring true. The Greens, despite having an MP, are vastly outweighed in coverage by Ukip, and Trade Unions, despite being the largest democratic organisation in the UK, are outweighed by representatives from business – union member's bosses. BBC News's bigtime interviewers – Andrew Marr, Andrew Neil, Jeremy Paxman (now gone), Nick Robinson – are all Tories to some degree. We hear a lot about growth in the economy, but no critique of what growth amounts to, and  we get a lot of cheap shots at Ed Miliband (granted, Ed makes himself a target by being pretty useless).

This article from a Cardiff University lecturer shows the stats. It reports that research shows "the BBC tends to reproduce a Conservative, Eurosceptic, pro-business version of the world, not a left-wing, anti-business agenda."

It then signs off with... 

"The funding for some of the research discussed in this article was provided directly by the BBC Trust."
Oops!
But of late I'd say that the analysis is pretty accurate. The BBC failed to report a huge anti-austerity march last week, except for (eventually) this piddly little post-it note of a report. Then I saw Andrew Marr on Sunday having a great old jolly with his breakfast time pal, Foreign Secretary William Hague, signing off by thanking him for the little chat. "It's been a treat," he said before blowing him a subtle kiss. 
Then today I listened to Radio 4's Analysis. It's one of those slow, thoughtful radio shows that you don't get many places. It tends to go a little beyond the trite pie-slinging political soap opera that's curated by Nick Robinson and friends on BBC News. It was called Tories: Nasty or Nice? Now, no surprises for guessing where I stand, but I'm always up for hearing the other side of the argument. The problem with this episode, however, was that there was no other to the other side. It was presented by Tory supporter Robin Aitken, and he didn't try and hide his political persuasions.
So, I wrote to Feedback – 
---------------------------------
I listened to this week's Analysis, a show which is often pretty good. I understand that this episode was exploring the question of whether the Conservative Party are nasty or nice and it was delivered by a Tory supporter. I don't have a problem with the presenter's political leanings, but I would have thought he would have to adhere to some form of political balance for the sake of the show. This wasn't the case. While he was exploring how the 'nasty' label had come to be, and putting the case forward for 'nice' – with the aid of the Right-wing philosopher, Scruton – there was a complete lack of challenge to his thesis. By my recollection, there was one guest who thought the Tories were 'nasty', yet she still found time to congratulate them on their foreign aid budget. There was no response from a representative of the Left to the accusation that in fact it is they who are 'nasty', never mind any detailed exploration into the damage that Tory policy has caused, or the financial interests that effect many Tory's judgements. Need I remind Aitken that it's not just Tory words that are so offensive, but their actions too.

Aitken's conclusion was that mending the electoral prospects of the Tories is a PR excersise, and after hearing this episode (and with the absense of coverage of the recent anti-government protests fresh in the mind) one wonders how involved the BBC is getting in providing that PR.

-------------------------

I also sent a link of the programme to http://biasedbbc.org/. They're obviously a paranoid anti-left bunch, but bias is bias, right? I'm sure their hatred of Labour, Europe, climate science, Obama, etc., won't get in the way of a their duty to seek out bias and put it right in whatever form it be! Right? 

What I said to them was...

-------------------------


Hi, I noticed some recent bias that I think you'd be interested in.
This week's episode of the BBC Radio 4 programme, Analysis, had a complete lack of balance.
For your interest, here it is: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b047ws86

Keep up the good work!

-------------------------

At least I'm nice hey. In conclusion, I don't think the BBC is as-a-rule conspiratorially left-wing or right-wing. Thankfully, the BBC's set-up involves so many editorial pigeonholes that they'd make a really incoherent propaganda organisation. Unfortunately that leads to some aggressive accusations when they slip up. The difference between where the accusations come from, as I see it, is that where the Left generally support the BBC and are concerned when it seems to be parping the government line, the Right are happy to criticise anything because destroying the BBC is the ultimate aim. 

Some say that the BBC generally align themselves with the government of the time, being nice in order to save the license fee. That wasn't the case in the 80s when the BBC was happy to give Thatcher a hard time, and we hope it's not the case now. The fact that both Left and Right seem to have an endless amount of ammunition is probably a sign that the BBC isn't drifting too far either way, overall. (I'm referring to party-political leanings here rather than social politics, for which the BBC is a little to the left – in line with dominant social attitudes – or economics, for which the BBC is to the right – in line with dominant economic discourse.) But to dispell the accusations of pro-gov bias, they better start holding the government to account for some of its work, reporting the mass anti-government movements, and stop snuggling up all cosy-like with despicable politicians on Sunday morning sofas.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Strangest Thing



"Sometimes when I go to exertin' myself I use up all the air nearby and grown men faint from suffocation. Stand back" – McMurphy.

After a back splittingly painful week there's a sign of remission. Is it the effect of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy? I doubt it – this week's session did away with the therapy and we talked about getting a job. Perhaps a little cognitive manoeuvring was thrown in under the radar, but basically it was a practical process. Somewhere, psychiatrist RD Lang explained how he chatted convivially with a patient for a whole session, only to call time for the patient to say, "Hey doc! We never talked about my problems!" "Well, have a think about that before next session, hey," he replied. Perhaps living is a decent enough management technique, when such a thing can be done. Alas for me, the next CBT session will have us back to simplified cause-effect analysis, and how to interpret supposed irrational thoughts.

But over our pleasant chat I realised that going to China for a year isn't going to ruin my life, that I can't sign up to a course this September anyway, so leaving it another year is no biggy... things like that. My therapist gave me career advice, such as answering my question – "Is it OK for someone with mental health problems to work in mental health?"

"It's the wood hiding among the trees," she said with a laugh. "Join the club."

Today, a few insurmountables reached conquering distance. A CRB check is in the mail, the TEFL qualification is almost done.

But the real shift is noticeable because of a certain kind of consumption. For about 6 months or longer I've been on a diet of minimal everything. I shuffle around the house like a hedgehog, somewhat scared to open a cupboard to get a glass lest one not be there, fearful of turning on the TV lest I can't find the remote, panicking when I have more than two windows open on the computer, blaming an cruel world when I realise I've run out of cornflakes. 

I generally drink endless water, partly to avoid caffeine and partly because the appetite for tasty drinks has vanished. But today, whilst reading One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, I fancied a coffee. I got out the grinder, opened up a pack of Zapatista grown coffee beans from Chiapas, Mexico, and ground them down into a fine dust. Then I threw that into the cafetiere and drank it down in the sunny garden. One whole coffee. After that I played an Aphex Twin record on the record player and wrote this. 

Why grind coffee when there's instant nearby? Because it's better. Why play a record when YouTube is right there? Because it's better. Caring about that stuff is new. Apart from YouTube being a terrible service, with irritating adverts and intermittent buffering, and shithead twats writing crap underneath the videos which become more compelling than the videos themselves, music lost all of its charm of late, as if my head can only take so much sound before it starts to overspill, taking floating parts of porous brain with it. Today, no telling why, the peril of information was distilled into a soothing whiskey, and for the first time in a long time, I felt the groove.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Diary of a Reclusive Antisocial Introvert – 12 june 2014


I pen this alone in a cheap hotel room in South Kensington, having ejected my travelling companion from not only the room, not just the hotel, but the entire city. She's gone to Chichester – a neat coincidence of visiting a friend and leaving me alone. But it's no "woe is me" moment, because I couldn't be more relieved.

Since she arrived for a UK trip for which I was happy to tag along, I got progressively worse. That is – anxiety, irritability, frustration, an inability to converse, and IBS. It peaked on Wednesday when we visited the Harry Potter studios in Watford. I know what you're thinking – Harry Potter, if not causing the problem, at least exacerbated it ho ho. But on the day in question I was indifferent to everything, thereby barring the potentially nausea-inducing Potterness. Instead, I was emotionally drained, and the victim of intense stabbing pains in unmentionable areas.

Sadly though, my lack of fun rubbed off on my poor friend, who got increasingly upset with me, all the while apologising for something, for being somehow responsible for my predicament. All I could do was quietly attempt to console her, to feign interest at magic wands and Dickensian potion shops, and try not to squirm so much from the agony.

Whilst my problem has a physical dimension, there is no "cause". I've been probed and tested and examined and sent on my way with a slap on the back and some pills. The effectiveness of them comes and goes arbitrarily and it's incredibly hard to conclude that medication is working – put me in another location, with other people, and the whole constitution changes. Hence, anxiety is deemed to be the villain.

As was the case when my visiting friend and I went to a barbecue at my father's house. This was the weekend before we went to London. Eating events leave me lacking appetite and small-talk. I slowly nibble on burnt ribs and precariously balance a corn on the cob on a weakening paper plate, all the while some well-meaning neighbour is piling burgers on me and discussing the weather. They talk about jobs and relationships and houses and holidays, none of which I have. I finish barbecues hungry, tired and hopeless, and bewildered at how such an event can be so emotionally unsettling. 

During this particular barbecue I was able to sneak off for a nap under the pretext of an early trip to the airport. The next day, back at my mother's house, I was able to steer clear of the family because of a recent bust-up with them due to my perceived laziness. (I'm often in bed, and hence not working or doing housework, which has led to resentment). Following this strange weekend and the rather morbid Harry Potter experience, I was not surprised when my friend decided to escape for a day.

And it's been a pleasant day spent alone – only mild-to-minimum pain. Has the relative calm been because I'm alone or despite it? I don't know. I had the chance to visit other London friends, but didn't risk it. Instead, I went to the Royal Academy of Arts, got bemused and disgusted by the ugly wealth exhibited in Mayfair, and drank tea by the side of the road. I wanted to share experience with an unknown someone, but that someone ends up being an inner voice. Being alone is like Stockholm Syndrome: you depend on it once it's caught you. Nowadays socialising is almost unbearable, or at best a chore. Humans have become like another species, and talking to them requires careful micro-management, deep breaths, the need to express things accurately and concisely to avoid the panic of my interlocutor not understanding. Even social networks make me sick. Few people stick by you when you can't handle being around them; those that do get tired. It's a bummer because I like people in theory. As Bill Hicks said, "I'm a misanthropic humanist." 

We live in a world of awakening voices. The voices of LGBT(QIA+), of women, of various minorities which have experienced some form of oppression or suppression. The voice of mental health is getting louder, as it has been since Freud ruptured Victorian notions of psychological normality, and the trend has continued with people like Stephen Fry, Davina McCall and Alastair Campbell coming out of the depression closet. If this makes for a more understanding and less judgemental society, then all for the better, but I can't help thinking that rampant "celebritism" and all the twisted values it promotes is one of the factors driving people towards a gloomy sense of inadequacy.

In this age of personal brand identities, introversion and even depression is sometimes sold as a Unique Selling Point. Myers-Briggs initials are thrown about on dating websites like OBEs or PhDs. Depressed Twitter users share their plight with followers using the hashtag #depression. The Introvert seems to offer something more than your everyday citizen – a quiet, brooding intelligence, something unspoken, subversive and mysterious. But not everyone is a Nietzsche or a Kurt Cobain or a Romantic poet, with hidden brilliance trapped far below like an illuminated pool in a dark cave. Not everyone is a protagonist in a slow-burning success story.

Of course I'm only referring to myself at the end there. If writing poetry, tweeting about depression or reading about Davina McCall's hard times has any  positive effect for anyone, then it's worth it. It's good to talk, so they say. As for my own rather invisible brand of mental illness, I've said just about all I can. 

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Temporarily in Oxford

We woke up painfully early to get the cheap bus, which we missed. A train and a taxi stood in our way, and while the first was devilishly challenging, the second was insurmountable. Who'd have thought that Southampton has no taxis at 6AM?

Having already paid 12£ for the bus which we missed, another 70£ was needed for the train. By 9am, penniless and tired, we were in Oxford, where the sun shines bright and watches down on the streets like the overeducated gargoyles strolling across the college rooftops. 


TEMPORARILY IN OXFORD
By Anne Stevenson

Where they will bury me
I don't know.
Many places might not be
sorry to store me.

The Midwest has right of origin.
Already it has welcomed my mother
to its flat sheets.

The English fens that bore me
have been close curiously often.
It seems I can't get away from
dampness and learning.

If I stay where I am
I could sleep in this educated earth.

But if they are kind, they'll burn me
and send me to Vermont.

I'd be an education for the trees
and would relish, really,
flaring into maple each October—
my scarlet letter to you.

Your stormy north is possible.
You will be there, engrossed in its peat. 

It would be handy not
to have to cross the whole Atlantic
each time I wanted to
lift up the turf and slip in beside you.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

The Movies of 'Tomorrow'



Edge of Tomorrow is a new film with Tom Cruise, and such an 'edgy' and 'tomorrowy' title got me thinking about other 'tomorrow' movies. Is Edge of Tomorrow's title just some cliché collection of evocative words intended to give another piece of 2 hour crap some punchy weight at the box office? Surely not! They couldn't call it All You Need is Kill, as the original Japanese novel was named in English, for fear of attracting only teenage boys and upsetting the Paranoid Mom's Brigade. Why, the creators must have had at the forefront of their minds the anxious human preoccupation of the unknown future, and the transient and fleeting nature of the 'edge' or indeed, the present, the ungraspable now. Indeed, are we not always on the 'edge of tomorrow'? Well, from about 11pm today we are.

Enter Cruise, and the story practically writes itself, but in case the name '
Edge of Tomorrow' didn't give anything away after all (on account of it being meaningless) here's a roundup gleamed from the trailer. Tom has the uncanny ability to start days again in the way that no one has since Bill Murray. All he needs to do is die. (If I could bring someone back from the dead, I'm not sure I would've picked Tom Cruise, but there we go.) 

There are also lots of guns, big guns with lots of chrome bullets that make all sorts of cool noises, and exoskeleton body armour, and a ruthless boss (Emily Blunt) who bluntly puts Tom though countless bloody executions to train him up to win the war until, inevitably, he becomes some kind of Übermensch. The trailer doesn't give away the ending but I'll bet that zombie Cruise overcomes the onslaught of perpetual dying and eventually wins the day, probably single-handedly. But then what? Do the credits roll? Or does this new Frankenstein's Monster want payback? Maybe that's one for Edge of Tomorrow II – Now Who's Dying? 

The world has moved on since
Groundhog Day, and with the viewing public constantly pausing, skipping and repeating their telly box, the theme couldn't be more prescient. Add that to the eternal quandary of making endless mistakes – something I know more about that anything – and increasingly affordable and higher quality CGI, and you have yourself a movie my friend.

Before we move on to some more 'tomorrow' movies, an honourable mention goes to Jake Gyllenhaal in his own terribly-named(-but-good) movie,
Source Code, which has a similar premise to Edge of Tomorrow. In it Jake keeps waking up on a train to complete a military-backed sting operation to stop an impending terrorist attack. From Moon director Duncan Jones, this was a decent effort, darkly tragic and claustrophobic, sensitive and with more than a little comment on the mighty military and its ethics. Perhaps Cruise's flick will be just as good, but until then, here are my other favourite 'tomorrow' movies which will keep you on the 'edge' of your seats.


The Day After Tomorrow 




Another clever title this one, because insofar as the day after tomorrow is always two days from now, it never arrives in real life, meaning that this is putty in the hands of climate change deniers. Of course what Roland Emmerich was trying to suggest is the just-around-the-corner creeping doom of global warming. The movie itself is fantastically over-exaggerated, and if Dennis Quaid's brow wasn't so sincerely furrowed, then it would have been hard to have taken the movie as anything but an ironic jab at the presumed scare-mongering of Green lobby (something which South Park put into practise with their episode,
Two Days Before the Day After Tomorrow).

Tomorrow Never Dies 

What with crackers like You Only Live Twice, Diamonds are Forever, The Living Daylights, The World is Not Enough, Die Another Day and Quantum – would you believe it – of Solace, the James Bond franchise must have its own department for coming up with movie titles which give nothing away except for the fact that the movie will be exactly the same as the last one, save for a different hairstyle and a re-imagined Martini quip. But that's why Bonders like Bond – the reliable, uncomplicated and explosive sameness. If you took all the Bond movie names, jiggled them around in a hat and randomly assigned them to different Bond movies, no one would notice. (Let me grant the small exception of Skyfall, which is taking a small risk by exposing dedicated Bonders to something bordering complexity.) 



But back to Tomorrow Never Dies, which is a great title because it invites us to ask in what way does tomorrow live, considering that tomorrow is an abstract concept, and a concept which signifies something that never exists now, being as tomorrow is always in the future. Maybe tomorrow dies if the world ends today? That must be it, because Pierce Bond Brosnan is trying to save the world from an impending Anglo-Chinese war provoked by a profiteering media baron. Of course if tomorrow did die, then there would be no viewers for his media enterprise, which would put something of a hitch on his post-war plans. 

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? 



One wonders if this movie was a spin off from
Dirty Dancing, in which the famous Shirelles song was used, with Patrick Swayze now putting his new young wife ('Baby') in the corner while he drinks and dances and practices walking on that log across the river. But actually it's a Taiwanese romcom from 2013, about the struggle between romance and security, and if I know anything about Taiwanese politics, it's that tomorrow's tortured romances are indeed the question – I'm looking at you China.


Escape from Tomorrow



An ingenious title, this one, because it's as if tomorrow is a place that you have to escape. A place like a theme park – Disney World, for example. In this creepy fantasy the main character loses his job and then embarks on a Freudian crisis of masculinity as he trips his way through America's Magic Kingdom, hallucinating on rides, spellbound by two horrifically thin French cuties and other intoxicating ladies, and generally being a bad dad. Eventually it all unravels into a Disney-Siemens mind-control cat-flu conspiracy that eventually has dad crapping himself to death.

With Disney's corporate tentacles branching out into real-life make believe, having developed a picture perfect town in Florida called Celebration, who knows what tomorrow will bring? I know it's a terrifyingly steam-cleaned hyper-privatised smiling dystopia from which I'd also be keen to escape.

Tomorrow We Live 


Tomorrow We Live has an alternative title which is, rather confusingly, At Dawn We Die. Well, which is it, director George King? You'd have to watch to find out, and if you did you'd realise that Tomorrow We Live makes sense for half the movie when the French Resistance (oh, it's a WW2 film, by the way) are making gains, but At Dawn We Die becomes a more appropriate name once the Nazis start executing people.

Tomorrow When the War Began



This paradoxically titled Australian flick is not only remarkable in that the 'war' is claimed to start tomorrow, raising that interesting question – so what of today? – but also it
began tomorrow, suggesting the titillating possibility of time travel. Also, the war begins or began in Australia, which is a nice change to countless worlds ending in America. That's where the similarities end though, because apart from accents and the token ethnic minority being a buff Asian guy instead of a buff black guy, this is indistinguishable from an endless list of US movies about horny wayward teens with better-than-average looks getting in over their heads.

This time, over their heads means going on a trip and coming back to total war waged by unspecified Asians. The kids have to go guerilla to save the day. If you were to notice the corny acting and charmingly bumbling dialogue you might suspects that, despite the profundity, the curious title might just be a typo. This would be plausible if it wasn't that same in the original novel, and it is.

So the title's suggestion of time travel was scuppered in favour of something far more powerful – paranoia about China, fed neatly to an impressionable 12A audience. The war begins 'tomorrow', when they are due to come back from camping, but as we see from the start this story is being narrated retrospectively, so the world
began, not begins or will begin. It's clever!