Archive for March, 2012


Spit Or Swallow?

Before we go any further I would like to state categorically that I have used the title entirely in a benign coquetishness and not at all to open a discussion on one’s sodium intake.

“Not only does one drink wine, but one inhales it, tastes it – and then talks about it.” – Edward VII

I only started drinking wine in the Spring of 1993 when after clearing a table in a restaurant in which I was working I happened upon half a bottle of an inexpensive Macôn-Villages. The manager said I could have it, I was 21 and working in a restaurant I wasn’t proud! Since my only experience of wine up to that point had been supermarket hock that was occasionally brought to the family home at parties by well-meaning but viticulturally-ignorant guests my palette was not especially refined. After the Macôn-Vill I decided that I liked wine. The manager seizing on my new youthful zeal put me in charge of sorting out the wine cellar and ordering wines where applicable. For those who’ve never been in a proper wine cellar you should, even if you don’t like wine it is a unique environment, where the nature of things is often defined by the amount of cobweb and dust an item has built up. The cold damp musty smells that signify the correct conditions that anywhere else in the house you’d have the damproofers in straight away. It has a historical feel like somewhere out of the 19th century, somewhere that you sort of assume is an unwitting surprise discovery each time you open the door. And then of course there is the wine itself. There is something about a bottle of wine that lends itself to mystique, the coloured labels, the exotic names and locations from which they come, the price tags on some, the perception that only posh people drink it, the fact that you can age it so that it’ll taste different and then after all that until you open it you never quite know what you’re going to get.

I mean lots of people like wine, but unlike most of them I was paid money to like wine for a while. I even remember some of that while, which is perhaps an indication that I didn’t like wine nearly as much as I could have done! After the restaurant I got a job in an off-licence which with a wage packet and 15% staff discount on the alcohol which made me both occasionally more popular and very frequently drunk whilst at university. During my time at the offy I got to host wine tastings which was a quite pleasurable social event and if managed carefully can lead to quite a trolleying later on when the “remnants” of the bottles used have to be disposed of. I recall a particularly entertaining Sunday evening when having closed the shop the manager and I proceeded to get bolloxed on a “few” dregs of a particularly fine Cabernet Sauvignon. I hasten to add this was at least marginally speaking on our own time, to have charged the company for both the wine and the time to drink it would have been churlish, I have standards of decency!

The highlight of the job was a trip to the International Wine Fair at Olympia. This is, so far as I can see, the premier event in this country for winemakers, distributors and retailers, it is a veritable vintnerial delight and I got there early so as not to miss anything! Basically each winemaker sets up their stall with a number of wines to try in the hope that you may buy some. The fair takes place over 3 days and some of the winemakers have themselves comes from the countries in which they work as far afield as Australia, South Africa and Chile. In all honesty I had gone there expecting to find out about wines and perhaps get the odd free sample or two having never been to such an event before. What I was unaware of was that on the third day, which was the day I went, provided the wineries had managed to sell sufficient contracts to the big players to justify their visit they could relax a little, be more chatty and enjoy things a little more. They could afford to be a little more generous, word of mouth is a good way to get known and even a lonely sales assistant can spread things around their shop and beyond. Since at the time I worked in one of the more only salubrious areas in SE London I did indeed have some influence over the buying habits of those with a bit of cash to spend. Hence by lunchtime I was decidedly shaky on my feet. This was a scenario which was not going to end well, the prospect of being carried from the venue into an ambulance to have my stomach pumped did not appeal especially and neither did missing out on the tasting of all of these wines!

There were cuspidors at every stand and a great many people with big noses were using them frequently, usually in a manner that seemed to maintain their pomposity, no mean feat when you are spitting something out. I had always hitherto spurned the cuspidor, not simply because I was too common to spit, nor to do with any dipsomaniacal tendencies I may have had but because to me part of the process of tasting a wine is how it goes down the throat and the length of it on the palette. It is true you can get some of this from sloshing it around your mouth but I didn’t, and still don’t, believe that you get the same experience as you do when drinking the taster properly. All that being said at the stage of being several over the 8 by lunchtime the likely conclusion of my going home with so many wines untested seemed a shame and the cuspidor became suddenly an item of use. I had something hearty to eat and went off spitting with wanton abandon. Ok not in every case I’ll grant youn aturally there had to be some form of floor limit to this since I was unlikely to get a chance to drink wine that was either extremely old or more than £50 I decided that it would be foolish not to have what I could of these on the one time only basis. This strategy worked and I spent the rest of the afternoon getting only slowly pissed and being able to hold sufficient conversation that I had a long chat to Leska de Wet, wife of South African winemaker Danny, who subsequently presented me with 3 bottles of wine that I had tasted and enjoyed and told me that they’d had a good festival and were delighted that I had enjoyed their wine. In addition to this I got some dregs of a 1971 Burgundy, which was I confess a little past its best, the bottle of which I retain on my bookcase. And so dear reader I hope I have illustrated that a cuspidor is not merely for decorative purposes or to indulge big-nosed idiots to feel like they’re in touch with the spit and sawdust pub visiting commoners. I like to think that the big noses themselves are also only doing so to avoid themselves getting shit-faced, perhaps their financial threshold of wine to swallow is a little higher!

What the wine festival did was expose me to a large number of wines of all sorts of grapes, blends, countries etc. and the biggest advantage of this is that when I go to an off licence or more frequently these days a supermarket (where now the Threshers, Wine Racks, Bottoms Ups, Unwins and Oddbins of old?) I can pick a wine that I am most likely to enjoy and likewise take something to a party that won’t be that bottle that sits around for months until the hosts forget who brought it in the first place and bring it back to a party of yours. Even this is hit and miss, I might like one vintage and not the other, whether or not you notice that a vintage has changed you’ll still notice if it tastes different and if ever a wine you like suddenly takes on a twang you don’t remember that is probably exactly what has happened.

In the early days I thought the wild and fantastical adjectives used by people such as Jilly Goolden and Oz Clarke such as tasting like ‘hollyhocks’ and ‘a horses saddle’ were entertaining from a linguistic point of view were nothing further than pretentious tosh. Part of me is not convinced that may not still be the case but I confess as I have tasted more wines the nuance in tastes has meant using a wider vocabularly to define them because as you get beyond what was then the £5 a bottle mark and is probably now the £10 a bottle mark the depth and definition of a bottle of wine does vary a colossal amount. I have indeed now tasted a wine that tasted like chewing leather but oddly not in an unpleasant way, I cannot prove this to anyone unless you tried it yourself but bring me a bottle of Chateau Musar 1991 and I challenge you not to find the same (as a point of information you can pick up the 2004 for a mere £17.99 and the 1989 will cost you the comparatively small sum of £75 – when you think this means someone else has stored it for you for more than 20 years that isn’t bad). Of course I don’t know whether the other vintages of Musar taste the same as the ’91 so bring a couple of bottles of those for comparison too!

Wine tasting is an incredibly complex business and I do now have genuine respect and admiration for the level of detail which some people can pick up out of a simple swig, I used to be able to tell the specific grape, provided it wasn’t a blend, I could often tell the country and very occasionally get the year to within two or three if it was less than 10 years old. However to tell the exact year, the level of blend and even the Chateau from which it comes shows not only a laudable capability of memory but also one of being able to quaff a biblical amount of wine. And here is the only difference. If you listened to an music album in not too long you would know what the songs are and even a lot of the lyrics, were you to listen to another you would have the comparison to determine more definitively the style of the band and personnel whilst retaining your information of the previous album you continue to build up knowledge of the new song names and lyrics. By a third album you would like as not pick up any change in personnel and begin to chart whether this was the bands older or newer style, if you find out the year you could start to determine their influences and all the time continue to add to the song and lyric information you already hold. By the time you have listened to all of the albums by that artist you would a line of text be able to tell the song, who sang it, which album it was from, what the year was, what the make-up of the band was, what there influences were at the time and perhaps even snippets around its recording. All this would have come from continued exposure to the artist building a database of information in your mind of each minute specific as to the makeup of the whole. So it is with wine.

However exactly like music, you can be able to define all this to the nth degree, you can know all there is to know about the grape, the vintage, the chateau, the slope at the chateau, etc. etc. at the end of the day you still might not like the taste and this is the whole crux of the argument, When you choose a wine you have to choose one you like within your budget, it doesn’t matter if you like a 1982 Chateau Margaux at a hefty £1200+ or a bottle of Chilean red at £5.99 just so long as you like it and can afford it. You might think that £1200 is a stupid amount to pay for a bottle of wine, I might as well, but then we haven’t drunk a bottle of 82 Chateau Margaux so it is impossible to say whether or not it is worth it. I do remember when I first tasted a bottle of wine that was twice as expensive as the norm and tasting immediately the difference, if that is replicated up the financial scale then the Margaux is likely to be the nearest thing to a liquid orgasm this side of a Pan Galactic Gargleblaster. The trouble is the more different wines you try the more you search for the ones that were the nicest and the less likely the cheap and perfectly cheerful wines will appeal (they are often great in the cooking!) there is no returning to the acceptable you are ruined it just doesn’t measure up in the same way. It’s rather like contentedly listening to the Dave Clark Five until Led Zeppelin come along and blow your mind, there’s no going back to Dave Clark it just doesn’t cut the mustard. Very difficult to match a wine with mustard, possibly a nice Chianti if you were interested!

Song Of The Day ~ The Dubliners – Seven Drunken Nights

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The Pre-50 50

Back in 2004 when I was what seems now like a tender age of 32 I created a list My Pre-40 Top 40 which was designed to outline the things I wished to achieve before 2011 when I hit the less than eagerly-anticipated age of 40.  My reasons for making the list public were multiple, firstly I thought it would be of interest to people to see what it was that I wished to do, the things that made up my character, or that which I hoped would make up my character.  Secondly I wanted to put it out there in order to give myself the impetus of doing these things, a kick up the arse in the wanting not to look stupid in front of my readership, like an internal competition as it were, something I need to spur me on a little.  I think were I to have had a steady relationship during this time and had I shared my list with my partner there might have been an overlap in the things they wanted to do too, thus increasing the likelihood of some of these happening.  This may of course be my slothfulness attempting to abdicate responsibility and trying to place the onus on someone else making sure I do what I should want to do enough myself.  I am fairly sure though in my defence that I would be nurtuting enough of my partner to help them complete items on their list whether or not they were something of interest to me.  There is a great pleasure seeing someone you love find or achieve something that makes them happy.  If you have helped and participated in any way it heightens this joy because it makes you feel useful.

I had achieved a fairly derisory number of these items when I hit the magic age, I had however accomplished some other things but it would be disingenuous to claim that this mitigates the fact that I should have done more than I actually did.  It is something that I feel somewhat ashamed of, many were perfectly within my power to do, whilst others could have been done with a little more focus and planning, and quite a lot of determination.  They say you have to want something enough, it is also what I tell my children, but I do believe I want some of these things, many of these things, in some ways ALL of these things, and yet they have not happened.  Did I perhaps spread myself too thin or allow myself to be dictated by the indolence that has defined me more than anything else across my life?  [I did begin the process in certain areas which may have a more long-term effect, I have at various points lost weight, at times quite a bit, at times less than I put on but at present I am about the level I was at in my early thirties but no longer smoking so can officially now say that I have given up and not merely traded one vice for another.  I had not solved my passport dilemma in 2004 and had not been abroad since 1997, it was too long then and it wasn’t until 2008 when I finally sorted it and got out.  Within 45 minutes of my arrival in Cannes I stood outside the hotel having a smoke, basking in the sunshine hearing French radio in the background.  It brought all the pleasure to life back, the brightness of the evening alleviated what had seemed embedded darkness within me and I felt refreshed by the heat, the culture, the proximity to the sea.  It had been 21 years since I had been in France and I hadn’t realised just how much I had missed it.  Such things shape our lives and can herald a whole new series of things we know we must accomplish.]

The purpose of my last list still stands, the desire to do meaningful things that not only seek to justify my existence and therefore render the oxygen I have breathed to have been of some purpose, but also to have been able to derive the pleasure from those accomplishments.  And so spurred on by my actions 8 years ago and my inactions since then, coupled with a post by my erstwhile travelling companion, (the one who is going to get a punch up the bracket if he continues to refer to me as his sidekick!) I have resolved to create a Pre-50 Top 50 – the extra 10 being a penance for not having completed my original 40.  It will be interesting at least for me to compare, to see whether this tells me anything about who I was and who I am now, hence as I write this it is not my intention to look at my last list at all so that the things I choose whilst perhaps duplicating will only be doing so because I thought of them independently now as I did then.

This is not an exhaustive list, though I am likely to get exhausted thinking about and writing it) nor is it designed to be one that includes silly wooly stuff or dreams that have little hope of coming true, or are at least not at all under my control to make happen.  This list must be things that require me to do something, I cannot rely on others to be in control or even to help, if they choose to assist that is another matter.

Personal and Inter Personal Development

1. Move abroad (again) – I can’t guarantee this but I really do need to try, I feel better in Europe and I think actually I am better in Europe, it has to wait until the kids are old enough to come as and when they wish, but that isn’t as far off as it once seemed.

2. Leave IT for something meaningful – This is an absolute must before my soul is erased beyond recovery!

3. Go for custody of my children – For them, for me, at the very least to show that they have someone willing to take on the system for them.

4. Rationalise my stuff into want I need and a little of what commemorates my past for posterity. – This has always been a goal, perhaps the least attainable of the lot 🙂

5. Keep off the fags (been nearly 2 1/2 years now) – one can never say never but I am still pretty strong on this, most of the time!

6. Do an MA either in Linguistics or Trade Union relations – This depends on finance, these days education is not seen as something that will benefit society only something that should benefit the Exchequer and institutional coffers.

7. Write something every week – I need to get back to doing this, I used to and sometimes I write far more but often it just dries up and frequently due to nothing more than indolence

8. Read a book every month – I have long since needed to read again, I used to do so when I commuted on the train but cannot do so whilst driving.  Now I need to find a time and set it aside, it will be its own reward.

9. Write a book every year – and not just part of a book either, perhaps this should have been finish one of the books every year!

10. Finish my play – to avoid it becoming like the books!

11. Get an anthology of poetry published – it would be nice, not vital but perhaps more important than it ought to be, this should be offset perhaps with the goal to stop searching for validation from others.

12. Send more work to competitions and journals – see above

13. Take more photographs – I used to take loads and nowadays I still see beautiful scenery all the time and moments that I should capture but my trusty Praktica BC1 is not in the car and such moments are lost forever.

14. Do an anonymous selfless act each week – this isn’t as much of an ego trip as it sounds for whilst it will undoubtedly give me some pleasure it will also brighten albeit briefly someone else’s day and that might lead to another good act.  I cannot expect the world to change to my way of thinking without trying to do something!

15. Think before I speak more often – Yes I REALLY need to do that!

16. Slow dance with someone – I’ve still never done this, in later life the situation never presented itself but the thought is a throwback to those many occasions watching others and having not had enough beer not to care.

17. Sit on top of a hill and watch the sun come up with someone – ok it sounds slushy perhaps and would be almost as good at sunset but I think if you’ve stayed up until sunrise and you watch that and go to bed that’s got to be special

 18. Ask people out if I like them – bit of confidence, I’m better than I used to be and if I were to continue this would go some way to offsetting the ‘what if…’ thoughts.  There is a chance for me to put that into practice sooner rather than later but circumstances are as yet unclear!

19. Go to a film marathon with someone – I guess this is just one of those sort of bonding things, to spend a large but defined amount of time within a shared interest seems a win-win.

20. Spend more time concerned with those who care about me and less concerned trying to convert those who do not. – I’m sure we’re all guilty of this but that doesn’t make it any less necessary.

21. Learn empathy – never been a strong point, I get single-minded abut things, it isn’t that I don’t care I just find it difficult to detach myself from what is my routine for that time.

Travel

22. Take someone I’m in love with to Ile Saint-Margueritte (Currently my favourite place on the planet) – were I ever to feel the need to propose to anyone this is the place I would do it, but leaving that unlikely event to one side this really is a special place.

23. Visit St-Guilhem-Le-Désert (again) – This is one of those places that is just nice to visit, it’s a lovely place with a peace about it, in spite of the many tourists

24. Buy a sailing yacht – Given that I do not, nor am likely to own a house the prospect of retirement looks bleak, even were there still to be a state pension or any other kind is doubtful that this will be sufficient to pay all the bills that I would incur living as I do now in a house with a car and the like, to live in one’s mode of transport seems sensible combining the two costs and also having some freedom.  Some might take the VW camper route but I prefer the sea.

25. Learn to sail – if my retirement plan is to have a boat then it would be sensible to be able to use it.

26. Visit Cuba – I have wanted to for many years and would prefer to do so when Fidel is still alive.  I am aware that Cuba is no paradise but they have done a number of things differently to the Western model and I would like to see for myself how this is working rather than relying on Western sources that have a vested interest in the collapse of such a society.

27. Visit Venezuela – mostly because of similar reasons to Cuba, not a perfect place but one that has chosen to be more populous-focused than business-focused, as much of the West is going further the other way it seems like a good time to check out the alternatives.

28. Drive a 1980s BMW 6 series along the French Riviera – this ticks two boxes, I love the old shark-nosed 6 series, it was an iconic sports car of the late 70s early 80s, not a wide boys car this was far superior, it cost around the same as a Ferrari then and costs about the same as a decent old style Mini now.  To drive it along the riviera would probably be the nearest to panache that I will ever attain.

29. Drive a multi-national banger rally in either an old Mini or a BMW E30 – Ok another BMW one, though I’d be just as happy in a Mini, I just think a rally would be fun, not the Cannonball Run I’ll grant you but a laugh anyway.

30. Spend a month travelling round India on trains – THis is perhaps the top travel one, the trip of a lifetime I think, India has always had a draw, the people, the colour, the food, the tea…

31. Spend a week on the Isles of Scilly

32. Leave the country once every year – one of those eminently achievable ones, I had hoped to do it from 4 years ago when I finally left but last year broke that.  This way I could go every year of my 40s.

33. Visit 1 new country every 5 years – which follows on from the last really but isn’t as valid if you just visit the same country all the time, I need to leave my comfort zone and get further afield there is a lot of world out there.

34. Visit 2 continents within the 10 years – I really need to leave my comfort zone!

35. Take the children to Ireland – the trip to the homeland, they already want to go and I want to take them but there are administrative issues.

36. Take the children to France – my Grandmother used to take me to France all the time when I was younger, it was our little excursion, no-one else ever came, I loved it.

37. Walk the route of the old Berlin Wall – I remember Berlin in the old days, I confess I miss it, the uniqueness and the sense that the place was steeped in both history and intrigue it was as magical as it was palpable.

38. Stay in the DDR theme hotel – I have to, a year in Rostock was probably pretty close but I want the full monty!

Health

39. Get into the habit of 4 forms of exercise a week

40. Cycle to work (4.8 miles)

41. Get down to 34″ waist

42. Get down to 14 stone

43. Sort out the health niggles I’m always putting off.

Money

44. Pay off debts (around £7000)

45. Don’t get into any more debt

46. Menu plan every meal – that’s EVERY meal not just towards the end of the month when I’m already skint!

47. Don’t buy mindless things just to make me feel better or less bored.

48. Sell one item on ebay for each item I buy – this is not to say I should be working out small things to sell and then buy a load of big shit, the value and size should be close together.

49. Save some money each month, even if it’s a tenner. – longer you leave it harder it is.

50. If I should be still writing (not to mention alive) at 60 I hope that I might continue the process and that it will be of as much interest as it may be now.

Should you wish to do your own list, whatever the number (!) then it would be interesting to hear/see them.

Song Of The Day ~ Blondie – 11.59

Country Life

It is so easily done.  Other things to do, other activities, other people to see, other pubs to drink in, ones where people may already know your name.  Those who have always been in the towns and cities, or perhaps those not from Britain or Ireland, will not appreciate the significance of the village pub.  This is not the same as your “local,” which could be one of many in a selected area,somewhere that you may or may not have some allegiance to,  this is a place that for those who may not go to church may be the only meeting place for an entire community.  My village is one whose local nickname had been Paraffin City so late had they adopted electricity, even now there remains no gas supply and half of the village loses electric power on a regular basis and apparently has done for years (Christmas Day last year in the middle of cooking Christmas dinner for example).  The main fuel here is still coal, unsurprising in an area where local pits still formed the bulk of inhabitants’ work until the mid 1980s.  The burning of coal comes with a distinctive smell, it is one that evokes the past and lends itself to that sense of a bygone era already prevalent with village life.  It is the equivalent of the smell of peat burning in Ireland.  It is ironic since most miners will tell you that burning it is the most wasteful use of coal that there is.

To sit in the village pub, my possessions almost packed, whilst four old men sat and chatted about events of their past and another watched the football on the television made me realise how fragile such institutions are, in spite of their importance to the community at large.  A business cannot survive without customers and in times of economic squeeze it is often that unnecessary activities such as going for a drink must go by the wayside.  The village in which I live(d) is small and somewhat insular, it is not on the road to anywhere so there is no passing trade for any establishment, it is a village that many people who have lived in the surrounding area for years have not heard of let alone been to and it sits in a dip so you wouldn’t even see it unless you were on top of it.  It has circa 1300 inhabitants and on a chilly Tuesday evening only 5 of them had turned out before me, it is the only pub in the village the other having closed some years previously.  I had only gone in because I briefly done so earlier to find someone who was due to pickup an ebay purchase from me, it had seemed churlish not to go back and at least have a pint.  I did so and left not long afterwards not because I did not find the place interesting but because I had packing to do and a cat to feed.  As I walked back I did feel that perhaps I was doing so too early on what was likely to be my last visit.  It felt sad, it was in fact the first time I became a little melancholy that I was leaving this little village.

In truth I have been to the pub on no more than about 5 occasions since I moved here some 16 months ago, I had gone in on the first night I arrived, it seemed appropriate, a mark of the arrival in a new village, I went with a sense of both excitement and apprehension  The village was a place in which I knew no-one but the same had been true where I had lived before and I had managed to get myself accepted there, I was confident that I would at least try but villages in the country can be strange places, often something of a time warp and extremely closed when it comes to strangers be they from the next town, county or further afield.  That night it had been quiet and I got talking to the landlord who had recently taken over.  He seemed pleasant enough, not much of a conversationalist but generally friendly, he explained he had plans for the place and intended to start making food there.  I had worked in a village pub many many years ago where food had been served to a very high standard and people had come from miles around to eat there, perhaps this could be the making of the pub.  I heard later that there had in the past been two pubs in the village but one had closed some time ago and this one’s future had been in the balance for some time with a succession of caretaker landlords not giving any stability that would make it a going concern.

The next time I went in was Christmas that same year when the pub was packed with large numbers of locals jammed in to wish one another festive greetings, a proper communal feel and a genuine advantage of living somewhere where people know that you are a local.  It had been only the second time I had been in, not by conscious avoidance just a factor of circumstances.  I did sometimes go back to another pub in the place I used to live because I still took part in the quiz and knew plenty of people from the 5 years I had spent there but generally I was going to the pub far less often due to the substantial rise in rent that I was now paying.

The third time I went into the local pub was one that rather shaped my view of it.  I was there with some friends from the village, these were the first people I had met and got on well enough with to be invited out for drinks of an evening and since they like me had two children it seemed ideal and the pub was a nice local place to meet.  As I had now been twice I expected to receive the nod of recognition that usually greets someone who is frequent enough to be seen as a person who probably lives in the village but not so that they would merit any actual conversation yet.  My friend had bought his children some chips, I tended as a rule to try to steer away from junk food for my children but it was a Friday and the chips looked nice and I felt it unfair that my children should watch someone else’s have a treat.  When I went in and asked the barmaid if I could get a portion of chips she looked over at the landlord who was at the bar in a chef’s outfit and supping on a pint.  “Kitchen’s closed” he responded and went back to studying his drink.  And such is the impression that can define one’s actions for many a year.

I had only been in on two occasions after that and had since found another pub a mile and a half away where I indeed walked past the village pub to get to, but I was now a local there and greeted as such by landlady and customers alike.  In there I had heard that where villagers who knew each other from their children attending or having just attended the local primary school used to meet of a Friday evening for a couple of pints and a chat they had now shifted to the pub I frequented.  Each time someone came in to this pub who had been to the village pub that evening they remarked on how quiet it was.  No-one seemed surprised, nor particularly disappointed by it,  the landlord’s manner was blamed for it and with a shrugging of the shoulders we went back to our drinks.

Now I am to move to another village, one with a busy trunk road with garages, petrol stations and 4 pubs, 3 of which are on the main road and will doubtless collect the trade from it.  It will not be the same.  I have neglected the village pub and however valid my reasons may have been I cannot help but feel that I, and perhaps the village, may be somewhat the poorer for it.

Song Of The Day ~ Dream Academy – Life In A Northern Town

It was a rather typical Tory sort of policy, get people off the dole any which way, not caring what they do just that they do something else.  It is not one fuelled by a desire to have people in work for their own benefit and development as a consequence then also of benefit to society at large, it is not part of a drive for full employment, the Tories since 1979 have always favoured policies that keep inflation down rather than do anything for the poorest section of the population.  You might think that keeping inflation down does in fact help the poorest parts of society but it would do so only were wages to continue going up above the rate of inflation as it changed, otherwise it is simply a matter of by how much your income is diminishing in real terms.

The Workfare system has a great deal of one without any of the other, there is no alternative way to look on it than it being slave labour.  Tory protests come in the form of saying that this is a scheme that enables people to get a job at the end of it, this may well be true in some cases, but there is no guarantee of it.  Furthermore to have the spectre hanging over you that you may lose your benefits is somewhat draconian.  I might have more time for the scheme if in the first instance people were given chances to do public sector jobs paid a living wage, or given the chance to work/volunteer in hospitals, youth clubs, environmental schemes, old people’s homes, homeless shelters, schools and others of direct benefit to society rather than being used to prop up the profits of already wealthy giants on as little money as possible.

It is no wonder that companies were in a rush to take part, this for them is a win-win, they get to take on the people they wish to at the end of the scheme, whilst exacting work for nothing from those they don’t.  It circumvents the interview process by holding a knife to the throats of the participants being forced to take part or suffer a loss in benefit.  This alone saves them a not inconsequential amount of time and money in not having to advertise and go through tiresome and lengthy interview and offer processes.  That companies have got their fingers burnt is heartening at least in terms of the level of public outrage to the program, the fact that companies were all to happy to involve themselves in the first place tells us much about our society, the companies who are running it and their contempt for people at the bottom of the social and financial pile.

However there is an equally more sinister element to the slave labour and that is the repression that is beginning to accompany the opposition to the policy.  The government are clearly getting very tired of protests accompanying every scheme they have to privatise each last public facet in the country and with the debacle of the Health Bill being the final straw they have decided that enough is enough.  The rhetoric surrounding begins as pretty standard petulant Tory bollocks.  Campaigners are branded by David Cameron as Trotskyites and fronts for the Socialist Workers Party, it is part of a “left-wing plot” according to Chris Grayling the Employment Minister, whilst Iain Duncan Smith has labelled detractors “out of touch” and that the schemes are “brilliant.”  Given this return to the days of the workhouses and cotton mills where labour was cheap and exploited accordingly one wonders what time it is that Smith is living in that we may be out of touch from, and whether indeed we wish to be in touch with it were we to know.

According to the government the minority, trotskyite etc. etc. protests have spooked the companies who would otherwise have continued in the scheme, which again says much about both parties here.  Hold on a second though since when have national and multi-national corporations listened to anything a small group of active left-wing campaigners said or did?  Let’s be honest governments don’t give a shit about a huge groundswell of public opinion and millions taking to the streets against wars so where would the incentive for corporations be exactly?  The oil companies have brazenly given public opinion the finger and the banks have pillaged the public coffers (with acquiescence of the last two governments) in spite of sustained widespread outrage.  What companies do care about is money, and for that they must rely on the consumer, if the consumer stays away the company loses business and revenue and confidence and that makes major shareholders very cross, so in fact far from these actions being the consequences of the left-wing campaigns and campaigners they are a great deal more likely to have been caused by the edicts from the most right-wing!

Thankfully for a start the Tories have now dropped the section dealing with cuts in benefits to those dropping out of the schemes, they claim this is not at all to do with public pressure, but then they would say that wouldn’t they?!

Song Of The Day ~ The Wailers – Slave Driver