Archive for February, 2014|Monthly archive page

The perks of working nights

In Opinion on February 6, 2014 at 12:35 PM

Yes, I am of those weirdos who work nights. It’s an odd life, and, fittingly, we’re an odd bunch. Indeed, a recent Giles Coren column in The Times read: “Whether you’re a lottery winner or miserable night-shift worker, riches don’t mend unhappy marriages.” So we’re the polar opposite of people living the dream – even the willfully unemployed have a better social standing. As I work in PR/admin, I haven’t even got the saving grace of working for any real societal good either, like nurses, firemen or even cabbies (just think how much more sick there would be on the streets on Friday and Saturday night if the act didn’t cost £50 a pop).

And to add to that, working nights has been linked to, variously, altered levels of melatonin, poor diet, decreased safety at work, social isolation, cardiovascular problems, restlessness, tiredness (obviously), decreased attention span, disruption of the metabolic process, and higher chances of heart attack, stroke and (twice as likely) breast cancer. It even has a name. The International Classification of Sleep Disorders not only exists but has clubbed the aforementioned issues together under the moniker ‘shift-work sleep disorder’ (SWSD). We’re basically modern-day lepers.

I jest – partly. For I get every other week completely off, which acts as a nice compensation, and my job is alright and by no means as bad if I fuck up due to tiredness as, say, a midwife working nights (respect to them and firefigthers, police officers etc who work nights btw).

But given the reputation of nights – and the fact night work is on the rise (blame George Osborne, unscrupulous employers, globalisation, modern culture or other as you will), a rise likely accelerated with the forthcoming 24-hour tube – I thought I’d give some personal plus points of working nights, and present an Attenborough-esque glance into my – our – weird world.

(N.B. So the following makes sense – I work every other Monday up to and including Sunday, 10:15pm to 6:15am, or a bit later, and when working I sleep soon after I get back, usually 7:30 to 9am.)

I can do shit in the day

All those little tasks that go on in hours when normal people are working – like going to the dentist, picking up your repaired phone, having to be in to let the electrician/plumber/young ‘gardener’ in – you can schedule them basically anytime Monday to Friday 9 to 5, knowing you’ll be free (albeit possibly having to get up ‘early’ then go back to bed). A couple of my colleagues even manage nights with their families. Not the most exciting benefit, granted, but practical.

No alarm!

Consider for a moment that agony, the exquisite pain upon hearing your alarm, that scourge of modern society, on a Monday morning. And just think, I never, ever, have to experience that in my current job. Nor indeed on any day of the week (unless for some daytime engagement or tactical nap). I have experienced this – at school, where I did a paperround, and in working life – and I know the pain. So I still consider a major novelty being able to get up and 1pm on a Wednesday, working or not, and, depending how I feel, either mess around in bed checking emails, Facebook and whatever rubbish the interweb has thrown up that day, or look at the time and think aaahh, fuck that, I’m going back to sleep.

…And in summer it’s actually quite nice to do this

There aren’t many things that feel right about working nights, but casually getting up, via a series of (allowed) snoozes, with the sun streaming through the window, is one of them. I usually get up naturally earlier too, which means I can enjoy the best of the day – go for a run, sunbathe, see some sights – while everyone else is toiling away on a computer in an office before cramming into a sweltering tube train. One doesn’t have to feel guilty about watching the Ashes or Wimbledon either. Granted, the winter, when once or twice I have pretty much slept through all of the day’s daylight, is not so nice. But I remember after playing tennis with a mate at university, him getting sentimental for student life a few weeks before finishing, saying “when else will we be able to play tennis at 2 o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon, unless we are very successful or very unsuccessful?” The strange untruth of it sometimes comes to mind when I’m sipping a beer on a sunny summer weekday afternoon in my club’s beer garden having just played a couple of sets. And let me tell you, it feels good.

‘Ha, I’m going home to sleep!’

It’s very petty, but I do enjoy the schadenfreude of leaving work to see all the early City workers just off the Drain, at Bank, trudging up the walkway to fuck around with derivatives or whatever it is they do. All while I can think of catching some precious zzzzzzzs. Yes, in that time they will be earning far more $$$$$$s than me, but for what I do, I could be paid worse.

…Or booze

My work’s Friday 5 o’clock drinks are Monday 6:30….am. Fortunately, there is provision for this – the Market Porter, by Borough Market, where me and colleagues sometimes go, along with workers from our rival company occasionally. There’s something so wrong yet so right about a pint at such time. And there’s a small but fascinating array of species in the pub at at 7 o’clock on Monday – us probably among them. You really should try it (seriously, don’t). Once we met a chef who had lost all his mates on a work xmas do, and thought, at about 6am, ah, Borough Market will be open and they do amazing sausages. So he popped in for a pint, very pleased with his sausages, before wending his inebriated way back to Orpington, or some other suburban mediocrity. If you make a morning of it, it’s also quite amusing to see the looks from all the City workers as they, presumably, try to work out what fresh hell allowed their hard-earned tax money to fund such Jeremy Kyle-types to get pissed on a Monday morning.


And last but certainly not least, as compensation for not being out if I’m working on a Friday or Saturday, the guilty pleasure of the work kebab (occasional, I hasten to add), which manages to taste like one of the greatest and worst things in life simultaneously.

Originally published on Planet Ivy

Politicians DO listen to us…too much

In Opinion on February 6, 2014 at 12:25 PM

Politicians just don’t listen to us these days – so goes probably the common, and personally most inane, refrain in current UK politics. But is there actually much truth to it? I don’t think so. In fact, I think quite the opposite is true, and that that’s slightly dangerous as people can be idiots – as Mark Corrigan says, “People like Coldplay and voted for the Nazis. You can’t trust people, Jeremy!” (I like Coldplay too.)

Certainly in many respects, we have a political culture relentlessly focused on the ‘common man’ (speaking figuratively, not in gender terms). Twitter is used as a soundboard for political ideas. A few hundred complaints about a TV show to Ofcom from lily-livered Guardian readers and/or boring old Daily Mail-reading farts are taken seriously as ‘outrage’. TV news will often go to the person in the street, even if the story is really about nationwide or global economic changes average Joes, to be frank, do not know much about (I’d pretty much include myself in this). And newspapers very often report polls on what we think, to the extent Survation, YougGov and Ipsos MORI are almost the Holy Trinity of politics (this trend sometimes creates an echo chamber of rubbish, like when the Daily Express reports that its readers oppose immigration. People who constantly read that they are being ripped off and robbed off their identity by ‘alien parasites and fraudsters’ don’t like immigration – no shit!).

And then there’s the focus group, the idea which started in the corporate world but has become almost the holy grail of modern policymaking. Bill Clinton called members of focus groups the most powerful people in America. All the main UK parties have tech wizards in their teams to scrutinise every minute detail of demographic polling, and then feed this back to politicians so they can decide, say, if ‘striver’, ‘strong middle-class’ or ‘hard-working Britons’ is the best way to build support for their policies. The Thick of It is the best satire of this culture I’ve ever seen, exposing the huge disconnect between politicians’ stage-managed public and private personas. (The show is of course ostensibly fiction, but could well be what actually goes on behind the cameras. Indeed, many policies shown actually prefigure ones later announced by the real-life government, and, according to The Independent, Armando Iannucci’s team have been approached by real-life politicians looking for their political insights.) I should say none of this applies to UKIP, which is basically its main appeal.

As for the effects of all this, just look at politicians pronouncements, politicians routinely talk about their constituents they have spoken to and meld their lives into heartwarming stories to back up their policies (the link is an Owen Jones rant, but the left do this about as much as the right). Of course these will be selective, but I’d like to assume that politicians are not such complete shits that they regularly make such stories up.

And in the run up to next year’s election, with polling currently finely split between Labour and Conservatives, politicians are jumping over themselves to appeal to that mythical political haven, ‘the centre ground’. Indeed, to the extent they’re kind of stealing each other’s policies and become somewhat hard to define. Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, after initially railing against austerity economically (and socially) but then finding trust in Conservatives running the economy was outpacing that of Labour, agreed to match the Coalition’s government’s “day to day spending totals” if elected. (Yet on Sunday, he told the Andrew Marr Show the last Labour government’s public spending was not to blame for the financial crisis and George Osborne choked off a recovery. Beats me.)

Also, after general support for the Coalition’s welfare changes, shadow welfare secretary Rachel Reeves has claimed Labour would be “tougher than the Tories” on benefits. Which is confusing for anyone who has listened to the party’s persistent criticism’s of the perceived harshness of Iain Duncan Smith’s policies. And, as polls show toughening views on immigration, Ed Miliband issued a significant mea culpa for Labour’s previously liberal policy on immigration.

But the Tories do it a lot too, for better or for worse. After calls of excessively high energy bills, notably due to green levies, David Cameron recently rolled them back. (Granted, traditionally the Tories have not always been supportive of higher taxation and combating global warming, but David Cameron did plan to be the “greenest government ever” – what appears in hindsight a superficial populist pledge). And in response to many people and Ed Miliband’s regular calls of a “cost of living crisis”, George Osborne has gone against the Tory tendency to leave business alone by calling for an above-inflation rise in the minimum wage to around £7.

Yet despite all this populism, hardly anyone actually likes or trusts politicians any more. For official evidence, look at official voter turnout rates; for anecdotal evidence, just look in any newspaper, pub or social media site.

Maybe we actually want to be led not followed. As resident right-wing crank Janet Daley says in The Telegraph, focus groups “are a denial of what politics is all about. They are an insidious reversal of the political process, turning leaders into followers.” These, and to a lesser extent polls, also pose inherent problems for policymaking, such as how questions are phrased, how one influential person can skew opinion and that they will inevitably, such is human nature, result in desire for more public spending yet lower taxes. On the other hand, Twitter lends itself to glib soundbites of opinion, often expressed by attention-seeking idiots – see, most recently, the reaction to Benefits Street. The most realistic way of canvassing opinion might be to go to the pub – but then who wants to have a pint with a politician (except Farage and Boris)?!

Maybe we don’t want to be listened to, or at least not if that same right extends to those we deem ‘fools’ or ‘fruitcakes’ – which in a democracy it does. This means, paradoxically, if we listened to everyone we have to both have raise and lower taxes; ban fossil fuels immediately and ignore climate change; and banish and burnish benefit claimants. Arguably, we already pay too much attention to people – stopping or delaying long-term energy and transport projects for any Tom, Dick and Harry annoyed about a bit more noise in their town or a few dozen frogs getting displaced. For it is human nature to be somewhat Nimbyish and short-termist, but these are not very useful qualities for running a country. The NHS, the welfare state, a national rail system were not very popular when first proposed, but are now (generally) regarded as essential. And, recently, the Olympics faced huge scepticism and controversy before turning out to be almost faultless success. Politics often requires a ‘fuck it, let’s do it approach’.

As the great (/mental) Kanye Wests puts it, “see there’s leaders, and there’s followers. But I’d rather be a dick than a swallower.”

Well done, the internet

In Opinion on February 6, 2014 at 11:17 AM

The internet – just a vessel for misogyny, narcissism, nutty conspiracy theorists, hate and porn. That’s what people say, isn’t it? But I don’t think so. Being 25, I suppose I belong to the ‘internet generation’. At the beginning, when we and the internet, notably social media, were in our formative years, this view kind of held true. But now I see far more links to charities, intelligent videos on reforming society one way or another, amazing (if arguably self-indulgent) photos from around the world and such like. And also men and women in various states of undress of course, but there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that.

And, contrary to the idea of social media as an introspective, image-obsessed and bitter pit of vacuousness and lolcats, I find, in my circles at least, there is a nice sense of sharing in one’s achievements. Statuses talking about basically good things in life like passing one’s driving test, getting a job, graduating, running a marathon, getting married, having a kid etc are typically told with understandable pride but without straying into arrogance or gloating. And they typically receive a lot of likes and positive comments. As simple as a ‘like’ is, I appreciate when someone, whether I actually still talk to them or not, effectively says ‘well done, that’s a good thing you’ve done’.

So basically, using the internet for what the amazing tool it is – something that can spread knowledge and stories from the smallest corner of the far side of the world in just a click of a button. Which is precisely what happened recently, when experienced skydiver Ben Cornick found his parachute was broken mid-dive over Fiji. Miracously, he managed to survive, after slowing his fall and hitting a van at over 45mph. Needless to say, he was not in a good way, though, and needed £20,000 upfront to pay to fly him for an emergency leg-saving operation in New Zealand, not having the correct travel insurance. However, after friends and family created a Facebook page, donations poured in, and the total of around £30,000 got Ben to New Zealand for the life-saving medical work..

Here are a few of the most heartwarming stories to have come from the good ol’ interweb…

A homeless man in Kansas City, Billy Ray Harris, returned an engagement ring which a woman had dropped into his cup. The husband of the woman set up an online donation, which, after being shared on various news and social media, raised a staggering $180,000. Not only was Mr Harris able to buy himself a new house and car, he was reunited with family members he had not seen in 16 years, who had seen his selfless deed make headlines across not just his community but much of the rest of the country and world too.

Aged just six, a ‘wee’ (his words) Scottish boy called Jack Henderson, “the little boy with the big art”, came up with an idea so lovely and creative that it would probably melt even Voldemort or Murdoch’s heart. Regularly visiting his brother Noah in hospital with a serious lung problem, he decided, entirely of his own volition, to start Jack Draws Anything, a site where people request a drawing and Jack draws it, in return for a donation to the Sick Kids Foundation. He also came up with all the words, branding, colours, them tune and chose chose the charity. At the time he hit the news, in the summer of 2011, he was working his way through over 500 requests from over 115 countries. And recently, he earned £13,000 for drawing golf stars, bringing the total Jack has raised to £64,677 – quite possibly the most a kid of less than ten has ever earnt.

…However, kids aren’t always as nice. After American 7th graders’ persistent and brutal bullying of school bus monitor Karen Huff Klein, some directed at her son who committed suicide, went viral – and Klein declined to press charges against the students, partly due to death threats the students received – CNN anchor Anderson Cooper revealed that Southwest Airlines offered to pay for a trip for Klein and nine people of her choosing to Disneyland for three nights. And Max Sidorov, a victim of bullying as a child, started a campaign on fundraising site Indiegogo with the aim of raising $5,000 for a vacation for Klein. Over 32,000 people from 84 countries came together to raise a mammoth $650,000, $100,000 of which she has put towards founding the Karen Klein Anti-Bullying Foundation, which promotes its message of kindness at concerts and through books, and more of which she has used to help friends and family.

The spirit of Cool Runnings, the loosely fictionalised tale of a plucky foursome of Jamaican bobsledders at the Winter Olympics, obviously still lives strong. Fans have raised over $25,000, largely in alternative internet currency Dogecoin, to fund the current Jamaican two-man bobsleigh team’s trip to next month’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, after driver Winston Watts, at the ripe old age of 46, having come out of retirement in 2010, revealed how much it meant to him but that he could not spend any more than the £100,000 he claims to have ploughed into his dream. It was revealed just yesterday the pair had qualified and therefore become entitled to all local expenses through the games’ Organising Committee and, in separate but linked news, that the Jamaican Olympic Association had agreed to significant funding. So out of the financial woods to some extent, though Watts still claims they are hoping for help. Hopefully more will want to feel the rhythm, feel the ride and get on up because, on Sunday the 16th of February, in Putin’s hardly diversity-loving Russia, it will be bobsleigh time…

Okay, I know this is a controversial choice, as the whole #Kony2012 thing ended up hugely discredited in many quarters; both politically – with the revelations of the charity’s huge use of self-promotion and the accusations of ‘white saviour complex’/ bad politics and history – and personally, with Invisible Children founder Jason Russell soon after being found masturbating in public after a meltdown. (I view Russell’s behaviour a bit more sympathetically than that tabloid description suggests, but my point was that this was a popular view). But to its credit the campaign did, as Russell reflected a year on, raise a lot of awareness through the discussion provoked by what an undeniably ‘effective’, ‘clever’ campaign. (I don’t consider myself a complete idiot, but I was fairly sold on it when I was first watched it – sentiments I know are shared by others.) It proved campaigning with a strident (if trite) moral message and Kanye West music will garner far, far more interest than complex, detailed reports from the UN or humanitarian agencies. Say what you like about Kony, but it’s getting more coverage than what a senior UN official describes as “butchery” and the “seeds of genocide” in the Central African Republic currently, where an estimated 1 million displaced have been displaced recently and a predicted 1,000 were killed in December in just two days’ of violence.

…On to some happier news. As the reaction to Tom Daley’s recent coming out statement proved, the internet is now pretty good at not being nasty gay people. Of course, the internet is not the thing which actually has the attitudes, but a lot of those with less progressive views simply will be too old to know how to use a computer, let alone Facebook or Twitter (not to say all old people are bigots or all youngsters are socially progressive, but there is a definite trend on attitudes to homosexuality generational differences. Also, while offhand comments such as ‘that’s gay’ are still prominent in schools (whether you find that serious or not), and gay bullying is still alarmingly prevalent in schools, it’s heartening to know that gay bullying has, according to Stonewall, dropped 65% since 2007. I don’t think this trend and recent high-profile, social media-shared coming-outs such as Daley’s, Frank Ocean’s and Robbie Rogers’ (an unotherwise unremarkable footballer, but the fact he is a footballer is something) are merely coincidence.

But the internet isn’t just full of self-righteous Guardian readers. There’s been quite a few recent trends beating fusty old bigotry in perhaps the best way possible – laughing at it. Satirising it to show how stupid it is. Most recently, and perhaps most brilliantly, in the case of the satirical UkipWeather Twitter account, which has a lot of fun with the idea that homosexuality affects the weather, in light of Ukip councillor for Henley-on-Thames David Silvester’s claims that the UK’s introduction of gay marriage caused the floods over the Christmas period. For example: “A period of calm as a group of women go shopping for shoes. However, storm clouds will form when one of them suggests going to Millets.” And: “Amber flood alert issued for Tewkesbury after a man won £50 on a scratchcard and said ‘oh my god!’ 3 times in quick succession.”. Another trend very worthy of mention is the alternative EDL – English Disco Lovers. This attacks xenophobia and borderline racism through the power of disco. As they say, they are for “fewer xenophobes and more strobes”.