A Significant Time

As a rule I’m not one for significant dates. Anniversaries I like because I like being married, and there are thems who are gone whom I miss. As for significant dates along the landfill of life –  you can keep ‘em. 

My fifth was arguably my most life changing; going to school and having to learn how to take a punch. The age of consent might have been exciting had it not taken me 16 months to take advantage of carnal legality.  My friends and I were pleased to be able to vote but becoming twenty-one three years later was overrated (key to the door anyone?). Memorable for the fact that three of my closest friends were banned for driving as result of a birthday dinner of bacchanalian excess at a restaurant in London’s St.Martin’s Lane where diners were placed in stocks and had food and abuse hurled at them. 

I watched nonplussed as others revelled in fortieths and fiftieths but enjoyed my sixtieth only for receiving  a 60+ Oyster Card, that I imagine will be the only thing I shall ever be grateful to our oafish Foreign Secretary for, who was then London’s profligate mayor.

Ageing has never been an issue with me. I like the way young people rush to offer me seats on the tube although I have been known to be angered  when bar staff address me as ‘young man’ and often appear to snigger inwardly when I resist the invitation to ‘go contactless’.  My scepticism of high tech payment endorsed by the Bank of England’s chief cashier Victoria Cleland who is on record for believing contactless is unsafe. My explanation that anything that makes life easier for banks and credit card companies cannot be good for you and I goes down as well as a flat mobile phone battery with millennials.

I began this lament with the condition ‘as a rule’ because from where I’m looking, in my sixty-fifth year –  I can’t recall a time quite so bad. As a society we’ve had all the tolerance we can eat. Loaded all the off shore bank accounts and hidden away as much tax as our accountants can manage. We’ve pumped up the price of property to unimaginable heights and scoured the world for people who will do our unpalatable work for less.

There are some ‘significant’ perks; reduced Fulham tickets; specially priced OAP Sunday lunches, and perhaps even a bus to take me to and from the supermarket. And..?

I grew up in the 60s and 70s, politically uneven decades yet culturally and socially forward moving. The Vietnam war, Northern Ireland and the assassination of Dr.Martin Luther King aside the world felt like it was improving. Borders and frontiers nationally, sexually and racially were giving way to what felt like, if not enlightenment, then at least a greater understanding. The world appeared to be getting better. After two world wars the lives of ordinary folk, albeit in the western hemisphere, were on an upward trajectory. There were jobs, homes and security.

Much of that appears to be gone. The homes, the jobs, the wealth, the future, democracy, polar bears, and even the planet are all at their most precarious since the Cuban missile crisis. And all because of the short termism of my own Baby Boomer generation. 

Someone asked me the other day what would lift me out of my funk of unhappiness (a pit of foreboding occupied by increasing numbers of people if the epidemic of depression is any indication)? How to swap the chasm of despair with a warm blue dawn of hope? The person asking probably expected I’d suggest an Italian holiday, another Jack Daniels, a box of Havanas, or a new pair of burgundy brogues, any one of which have been known to perk me up when things have looked bad in the past. Without so much as a beat my reply was I’d like someone to switch off the internet. Turn off the infernal contraption that has assisted global capitalism’s transformation into an insatiable stalking monster, us into products, and our lives and likes bought and sold like any other commodity. We’re the ones being farmed.

I can’t be precise but I’m not that far off the mark to state that it’s been ten years since I bought anything on Amazon. I have no particular beef with owner Jeff Bezos, not even his unctuous grin, I simply do not want to assist any company that by all reckonings is responsible for the closure of over 40,000 bookshops worldwide: over 600 in the UK in the past decade. Undercutting high street stores of almost every hue and now boasts that it is striving to replace warehouse employees with robots and deliver its goods using drones.

But lets not get hung up on Bezos and his company, they are not my only objections to the internet. Sidestepping paedophilia, sexting, fake news, the undermining of democracy, and the ease with which fascists of all colours, ethnicities and religions can promote their ideology and violence, what really upsets me are those otherwise sensible people photographing their meals and sharing the images with the rest of humanity, as if we care. Identity theft and internet banking anyone? Last year it’s estimated 15.4 million consumers were scammed online with banks increasingly telling us it’s our fault. 

I blame those nerdy Millennials in open plan hot-seat offices in California for peddling the idea that just because they wear baseball caps back-to-front and sneakers they’re somehow making the world a better, cooler place because it’s connected. They’re not. They’re just devising ever more insidious ways of screwing you and I and handing our money over to the ‘man’. They allow us to swap photographs of our lunches with our pals and we let them sell our personal details to multinational brands and crime syndicates. 

Has the internet cured cancer, or homelessness, or made the world a safer, more secure and tolerant place? The hell it has. In fact, just the opposite. It’s given us an epidemic of online porn and child abuse,  a sociopath who supports white supremacists in the White House, and a generation of people who place their telephones on the table at dinner time. And, by decimating the newspaper industry to pulp, it’s undermined truth and freedom of speech. 

Britain has the lowest GDP of any major European nation and has a generation of graduates leaving university with upwards of £30,000 of debt and no career to go to or home to afford. And this before Artificial Intelligence the latest wheeze from California that is expected to waste 40% of all jobs by 2030. 

Call me old fashioned but I grew up thinking items deemed detrimental to human health – heroin, driving whilst intoxicated, child abuse, and nuclear and chemical arms should be controlled due to the detriment they cause. IE – illegal in the interests of a better, safer world. Doesn’t AI fit into that category? Why let those self aggrandising Californian’s be permitted to provide international capitalism with yet another tool to make the lives of children and our children’s children worse. 

But the real kicker, the absolute ding dong, is that I am to blame. As a home owner, soon to have a triple locked state pension, it’s me, and those like me, who have plundered the wealth of the nation and pulled up the drawbridge. The world of austerity we find ourselves as designed by Thatcher and rebooted by the half-wit trio of Cameron, Osborne and Clegg (a knighthood?) is down to people like me owning too much, receiving too much and being ill too often. I even drive a diesel car, fuel have a wood burning stove, and passionately want to remain European.

Significant date? You better believe it. It’s all my fault. Everything. If it wasn’t for the tories selling council houses and public utilities, international capitalism, the banks, UKIP, Amazon, the the septuagenarian sexual predator in Washington, and the damned internet  ( following the NHS hacking, Visa, and the TSB, England’s Word Cup squad has been advises to tape over laptop cameras and warned about using WiFi in Russia) – it’d be chaos. 

There you have it. Another significant other. Looking around at the achievement of my generation I wonder if I won’t be the only one with his head in the sands of time, or a virtual reality headset.

*written four months ago but not published for reasons unclear

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