Friday, December 19, 2014

Stanley Kramer Joke of the Day

They are remaking the classic film starring Sidney Poitier about a young black doctor who is brought to meet his white girlfriend's parents for the first time; this time it is set in North-West London. Don't miss the explosive and thought-provoking "Guess Who's Coming to Pinner?".

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Raiders of The Lost Weekend, or something

Just as well I had no particular plans for last weekend, other than a vague idea about watching a FA Trophy match against local rivals Hayes. I spent most of it either sneezing, coughing or lying down with dizzy spells and sinus pain. It was rather surreal to be listening to a radio comedy show on my dinky little mp3 player at 3:00am on Sunday, (but the alternative was to stare up at the bedroom ceiling) whilst all the time trying to breathe without bringing on another tiny little tickle at the back of the throat that would without warning force another bout of coughing, with such force as to make my stomach muscles ache all the following day.

All the familiar ingredients came out of the medicine shelf - the lemon and honey drinks, the sticky cough mixtures, the soothing tablets.  I've no idea which of them worked but, after three days of it, it looks as though the worst is over and I can sit at my desk and write these few words without too many sessions of chest-ripping hacks. [I'm keeping my distance: Ed]

So, what was happening in the world while sod all was happening round my way? Top news is that the so-called "Wealdstone Raider", a diminutive middle-aged fan of the football club that I also support, has become famous for two ludicrous reasons:
  1. A YouTube video was made of him some 21 months ago when we played away at Whitehawk [A Ryman Premier League team based in Brighton. So I'm told: Ed]. He had an altercation with some of their supporters and the video consists of him, gripping a pint of beer tightly, informing them that "You've got no fans" (true, although they won the Ryman League that season, and it took us the following season to emulate them, their support was pathetic) and "You've got no ground", which was untrue. When a comment is flung his way he turns on his interlocuters with the immortal phrase "Do yer want some? - I'll give it yer". The genius of the person who uploaded this 33 seconds of movie history was to dub him The Raider and to add "You don't want to mess with this lad"
  2.  This video went viral, as they say, but after a long period of nothing much else, suddenly interest has mushroomed. The man, now with some assistance from the commercial management at Wealdstone FC, is doing nightclub appearances, is selling merchandise with his face emblazoned on it, and has released a recording which his supporters seriously hope will become the no 1 best selling single for Christmas. It is currently nudging into the top ten. It comprises a monotonous drum and bass beat with samples of his diatribe stitched into what I believe the young people call "a rap" [Don't ask me: Ed]. The Raider, bless him, has said that the proceeds will go to charity.
Just in case you think I'm making this up, this is the original video, (warning: offensive language),  here is a link to an even more ludicrous story in The Sun and here some Barnsley supporters "entertain" with their own version of the single. It's a funny old world.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Those Awful Advertising Slogans - 5. "Must End"

Not a swipe at any particular advertiser [Astute readers may be able to draw their own conclusions: Ed] this morning, just a general observation. When someone promotes a "sale" and proclaims that it "must end" on a given date, I suppose they want our reaction to be as follows:

Scene: the household of Mr & Mrs Consumer
Mrs C: Here's the morning paper, our dad
Mr C: Thanks thinks why is she talking all Northern this morning, she's from Exeter
Mrs C: I'm so glad we've finished all our Christmas shopping, today I'm going to put my feet up.
Mr C:  Oh no you're not. Read this! hands over paper folded to a full page ad
Mrs C:  Good heavens. Sparks and Mencer are having a sale, the chocolates that were on sale for a very reasonable £57 per kilo are now a staggeringly good value £28 per kilo.
Mr C:  And the sale MUST END soon so hurry hurry, it says here.
Mrs C:  It must end? I don't believe it.
Mr C:  Says so here. It MUST END.
Mrs C: You mean...
Mr C:  Get your coat, Amanda, we're going shopping!

Unfortunately the reaction in the Commuter household is rather different

Mrs C: Here's the morning paper and why you can't get it yourself you lazy good-for-nothing I'll never know, Mother was right about you.
Mr C: Yeah, whatever. Blimey. Would you look at that!
Mrs C: You mean the incredible sale at Sparks and Mencer which must end soon? Shall I get my coat?
Mr C: £57 a kilo? £57 a kilo??
Mrs C: Well we don't actually need a kilo darling.
Mr C: I can see why that sale must end. Their directors must be going bonkers. How can they possibly pay themselves huge bonuses just for doing the jobs they have contracted to do anyway if the company doesn't make enormous profits, and they can't do that at £28 a kilo. No way. I'm amazed that sale hasn't already ended and the person who thought of holding it been summarily sacked, barred from ever working in retail again and had his private phone spattered all over Twitter by the company's "black ops" department.  We daren't go anywhere near in case we caught up in the grim lines of middle managers marching up the aisles removing all the Sale signs,fending off desperate last minute shoppers with a sneer that says "We told you it must end and this is it" and rechecking their spreadsheets to ensure that all discounts are removed forthwith. It's going to be retail carnage.
Mrs C: quietly Mother was right.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Economics and the myth of the market

Many years ago I took a degree in economics from one of the UK's more prestigious universities. Much of what I learned has long since departed the brain but I can still remember the core of the theory of perfect competition - the idea that the optimal way to manage production and ditribution of scarce resources is to have many competing organisations both buying and selling so that none can gain an advantage over the rest by virtue of its size. This notion is so powerfully ingrained that generations of politicians mouth about "the markets" without having a clue about the unbelievably ludicrous conditions required to make "perfect" competion actually work (one is that everyone has access to the same information about the future at the same time so that nobody can gain an unfair advantage, another is that there is no such thing as intellectual property, a concept treated as trivial by the 19th century economists like Mill and Marshall). I don't have the inclination to go into it all now, and you certainly don't want to read it, but take it from me, the only economy where perfectly competitive markets could exist, and then produce the "optimal" result, is Fairyland.

In the real world, markets do not produce the best results in the sense meant by those economists who founded the theory of markets and relating theories about "economic welfare" (which is nothing to do with the Welfare State). We had a typical confirmation of this with the story that Premier Foods, a giant in the processed foods business, was requiring upfront payments from the myriad of small firms who supply it. Monopsony, we used to call that, meaning a single buyer wielding power over many sellers. It indicates a catastrophic breakdown in the competiveness of the market. Any politician who claims to believe in markets (Mr. Cameron? Mr. Osborne?) should be demanding the immediate breakup of Premier Foods into at least thirty competing firms. But they are not.

You can, of course, believe that unfettered capitalism, which creates huge businesses wielding enormous economic power, is a good thing in itself. You can believe that competitive markets, in the economic sense, are the best way to run the economy. But you cannot believe both. They are different things. As it happens I believe that the first is awful and the second impossible, and we need a third way. But that is another story.

Monday, December 01, 2014

The Nuisance Callers' Nuisance Caller

My landline rang. A pleasant English female voice asked me to confirm my name and then said they had a record that I had been receiving large numbers of unwanted calls and could I confirm this.

This displays a rather breathtakingly high volume of chutzpah - easily up to 11 on the conman scale (not to be confused with the conran scale which measures the pretentiousness of design in upmarket shops like Bivouac). Here is a nuisance caller, someone who is calling me despite my registration with the toothless old watchdog known as the Telephone Preference Service not to receive such calls, ringing to pretend that she had the solution. I did not need to hear her sales pitch. I know that she was either about to offer to install a "box" for £89 plus a monthly charge of £1.99 or so and all that said box would do is...well, nothing. Or she would claim to be able to reregister me with the TPS for a fee (for a service which is free). So instead of replying to her question I politely said she obviously hadn't checked that we were registered and maybe she had better get off the line without delay. Off she went.

What next?

Scene: Me peacefully at home. The phone rings
Me:  34567889 (not my number but close enough)
Caller: Mr. Commuter?
Me:  (cautiously) Yes (thinks, can't be the bookies, I paid "Big" Freddy off last week)
Caller: We understand you have been receiving nuisance calls from people trying to sell solutions to receiving nuisance calls and it just so happens we have the solution here. For just £200 plus £10 a week we guarantee to tut very loudly and sympathise every time you call us to say you have had one of these intrusive and timewasting calls,
Me: Absolutely brilliant, I'll take two.


As soon as I can line up Stephen Fry to play the caller, we're off to the West End with this one.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The end of the endless tube upgrade?

Something rather bewildering to report from the commuter front. A poster at the station announced it first and now the calendar of planned engineering works on the TFL website confirms it, at least for the next two months. Barring one weekend there are to be no closures for upgrade work on the Metropolitan.

If this is not your tube line of choice then you may ignore the rest of this column and shrug. But for those for whom this steel road is the transport lifeline that makes living on the edge of London possible, then this is amazing news indeed. We have been living with regular weekend closures for so long it is difficult to grasp that the Met can run all through the week on a regular basis. Fancy that! Come Saturday we can stroll down to the station expecting (oh, joyous word) that normal services will be provided. The dreaded phrase "Darling, the trains aren't running, can you give me a lift to..." will become otiose. Hanging about in the car, in teeming rain, parked on the yellow lines outside a station where the trains are terminating short, with one eye open for traffic wardens and the other on the precious phone app that shows the arrival of the train one hopes is conveying one's loved one, will be one of those quaint memories one dredges up in later life to bore one's great-nephews and nieces when they ask "What was it really like in the bad old days?". They won't believe a word of it, of course. That's the trouble with modern youth. Soft. Given everything on a plate. [We seem to be digressing a bit: Ed].

Anyway, we've had years of it and I'm heartily glad that the current round is completed. Once upon a time the Met trains used to hurtle at speeds of over 60mph on some sections, swaying and jerking sufficient to hurtle luggage off the racks. Well they did away with the racks on the new "S" stock units (sod them) but they have promised a return to faster journey times when the track was improved. I'm looking forward to a bit of adrenaline-pumping action in the new year. [Is this a euphemism?: Ed]

Saturday, November 29, 2014

How was Black Friday for you?

The cultural behemoth of North American practices continues to run amok in Britain. Not content with giving us meaningless cliches like "Out of left field", "touching base" and "ballpark" when "Behind silly mid-off", "making one's ground" and "pitch" are far superior,  and foisting pumpkins and trick-or-treat on us at Halloween when kids should be either doing their homework or slumped in front of the telly but not ringing the bells on their utterly uninterested neighbours' doors [The neighbours are the ones uninterested, their doors are not known to express opinions, right?: Ed] we now have the totally made-up and pretend commercial frenzy known as Black Friday.

We are supposed to believe that on this day, just after Thanksgiving [Whatever that is: Ed] and poised at the start of the Xmas hysteria, the volume of retail sales is such that retailers whose financial years end in December will at last show a net profit for the year to date, hence are now "in the black" as those of us who still use quill pens dipped in different colour inks to record such matters in our ledgers will be well aware. This may or may not be true for some retailers. But this day is now associated with seemingly high discounts and apparent amazing bargains leading to overnight queues, crowded stores, frantic buying, fist-fights over the counters and scenes of weary police hunkered down by their cruisers shaking their heads in despair and radioing in for reinforcements. And that's just at Asda in Wembley (not far from where I used to live).Who knows what is happening in the less refined parts of our country?

It defies belief that at a time when a business is turning a profit it should cut prices and kill its trading margins. Therefore I don't believe it. They simply raise prices during the dead months of the late summer in order then to proclaim fake discounts and sell the stuff at the prices they had planned all along. Indeed, an article in today's Guardian shows exactly this strategy at work at Argos where apparently artificial Xmas trees are at "half-price" compared to the price in August. Who the hell buys a Xmas tree in August? Apart from, obviously, people setting out on expeditions up the Amazon or to the South Pole;  they will have their cabin trunks stuffed full of plum pudding, tins of ginger biscuits, whole wheels of Stilton and bottles of vintage port. And a full range of decorations, crackers, silly hats and board games for we are British, goddammit, and standards must be maintained.  But leaving them aside, which I do with some reluctance, there is surely nobody else who (in August, let me remind you, not the dark days of late November) would flip through the hefty Argos catalogue, stop at the page showing baubles, illuminated angels and tinselly trees and think "Umm, that's nice, just what we need...". If you happen to be one, do let me know and I'll be happy to do a brief interview.

Anyway, Mrs Commuter and I shopped normally yesterday, as we usually do on a Friday, at our local supermarket where all was calm and ordered. A rather sad bin near the door held their "Black Friday" offers - a really cheap and nasty looking radio and some headphones whose sole selling point seemed to be that they distorted the bass. There was no queue. No punch-ups. No pensioners grimly elbowing each other out of the way. We don't do things like that in beautiful Ruislip. Not yet, anyway.