Not Mid Morning Matters

JD in the Morning, off air…

Tag: christmas

Black Friday, a dark day.

On Friday 28th November 2014 people were queuing at midnight and police were called to deal with scuffling crowds as fights broke out. This was not the end of days due to rumoured shortages or social unrest at austerity and the lack of a pay rise for years, although the pictures might imply otherwise. This was all about shopping and buying stuff. This was all about want, not need. This was about a bargain. This was Black Friday, the most successful day on-line merchant of everything Amazon ever had. Their sales “surpassed all expectations”, selling more than 5.5 million items. This was about billions of pounds being spent. Black Friday has arrived and we all loved it.

Being in the ‘black’ is about being in credit. This is how business entered income into the sales ledger in the time before the PC, in black ink. Being in the ‘red’ is about being in debt, entered in the books in red ink. So the irony of creating a day called Black Friday to get you and me to shop for a bargain or three should not be lost on us. The chances are that on day so named about being in credit may well have pushed many further in to debt.

One of the biggest con tricks that has been played on us all by successive governments and the financial Services industry is changing the word ‘debt’ into ‘credit’. A credit card or a loan is a debt and to call it anything else is delusional, yet we have all become deluded. Since the invention of the credit card in the early 1970’s our governments have created a financial world, through ‘light touch regulation’, to convince us all that credit is good, buying things you want but don’t need is good and more stuff you have the better your life is. And if you don’t have enough stuff, get another credit card or more easy, flexible credit (terms and conditions apply) and it can be yours. Even Mortgages, a word based on the French for death, have been re-branded to be less scary and more cuddly Home Loans. How cute because there is no place like home, even if you will never actually, really own one and you are in debt, sorry credit, for the rest of your life.

Black Friday is, of course, a business construct. It is a simple marketing tool to get us to buy goods, so perpetuating the consumer lead recovery much denied by our current government. They wanted our recovery to be a manufacturing led recovery, built on making things and on construction. Actually the only real government construction I’ve noticed being done are the concrete walls springing up dividing our motorway carriages. These concrete walls in our central reservations are a very strange bit of new infrastructure. If I were to crash on a motorway I’d rather hit a metal ribbon than a concrete wall.

Black Friday was simple to create, based on the post Thanks Giving holiday from our american cousins. Here in the UK it married the last working day of the month with the last payday before Christmas. It marketed and advertise deals that had to be had and we the willing consumer, flush with our hard-earned cash and ‘credit cards’ were ripe for the buying. And we shopped. I bought a coat.

So what does Black Friday say about us, about you? Is this time of year about a great deal on a Smart telly or a coat? Is this time of year about eating, drinking and making merry? Is this time of year about excess or is it actually about something else? I am not a religious man. I will leave that for others but I do worry that getting a 40’’ Smart TV for £120 is more important for some than anything else. This worries me and it should worry you too.

If Black Friday doesn’t worry you then you always have Cyber Monday and the Boxing Day sales to come. And you can buy more stuff on-line on Christmas afternoon. The baby Jesus would be so proud.

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The perils of Father Christmas on the radio

It’s almost here or it is as simple as there are just three more sleeps. Noddy Holder has made his pension shouting about it. Will your Christmas be like it is on the telly? Chances are you don’t even have an open fireplace in your living room. It’s a difficult time of year to be a journalist when the world is point east, toward a bright star or Cribbs Causeway as its better known while you are pointing west, toward a news story.

It is even harder if you do a daily topical phone in on the radio. Getting a listener to talk about something other than Christmas, even if they don’t actually give a monkeys about it, is quite difficult. One could start to discuss the truth and realities of Christmas but this is VERY dangerous ground.

On BBC Radio Bristol this week I ran a series looking at how other faiths and religions mark, celebrate or avoid this time of year. Very illuminating it was too. We had a lot of praise from listeners and some critique too, which I always welcome. As ever in these matters, if your faith does not chime with another there is a conflict of the heart, soul or body. ‘Twas ever thus.

One thing you can never EVER discuss is that Santa Claus or Father Christmas does or does not exist. You can’t even challenge the notion of his existence, his origins or meaning. It’s the law. Whether he is or was a saint, a sinner, German, a construct of the coca cola company or just a retail catalyst to get you shopping for one day of consumer excess I will let you decide.

Here are a few thoughts on this. Parents must maintain the magic of Father Christmas for as long as possible so children believe in him, but at who’s cost? The parents, maybe. As soon as the Santa secret is out, the Christmas stocking stops and the christmas spend decreases significantly. You might say that this is a retail conspiracy. You might very well think that, I couldn’t possible comment, to quote a former fictional Conservative Chief Whip and PM.

Here is another thought. This time of year and the use of Father Christmas is a useful juvenile binary judicial system. Any potential crime or disciplinary infraction committed from early October means you are either ‘naughty or nice’, you are listed accordingly and duly punished on the big day. You can even commute your crime and get a lighter sanction for good behaviour.

One last thought on Father Christmas. He is the ONLY exception to the rule of ‘don’t talk to strangers, don’t engage with them’. Indeed it’s okay for Santa thought to break into your home, steal food, creep up to your child’s bedroom and leave toys.

In short if you even dare to say you don’t believe in Father Christmas it is career suicide and likely to get the local paper on your back with a campaign to have you taken off the air, taken to the local park and force-fed carrots while listening to Shakin’ Stevens Merry Christmas Everyone over and over and over again.

So without actual commitment on Father Christmas/Santa/Ole Nick’s existence I leave you with this final festive thought. The are four stages of Santa. You believe in Father Christmas, then you don’t, then you become Father Christmas then you look like him.

Merry Christmas and a safe 2014.

Boozy Bristol after dark

It’s the Wild West out there on the streets of Bristol at night, especially at the weekend. Lawless, drunken, riddled with drugs, sex, all fueled by cheap booze and falling morality. It is the beginning of the end and every town is like it.

No. This is just plain wrong. I was wrong, the Sodom and Gomorrah image we are being sold is wrong. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself, so said Franklin D Roosevelt and he would say the same about the streets of Bristol on a Saturday night, had he seen what I saw.

The reason I went out was to test the assertion that Bristol city centre is full of young, drunk, drugged people who are badly behaved and off their heads on drink. Alcohol costs the city millions in management and health issues; it causes many social problems and leads to crime and general lawlessness. Yes this may happen, but it is not the whole story. The late night economy in Bristol, with bars open until 5am and clubs closing at 6am is a result of changing attitudes, culture and laws. Bristol is responding to this and doing rather well because of it too.

The Habourside was my first port of call, a mixture of bars and restaurants all offering a differing propositions for the young and the not so young. I went into two of the bars and they were busy, happy places and both were a mixture of all ages. The door staff outside a bar on Park Street I spoke to earlier had told me that Habourside is where the Saturday nights out start, or on Corn Street. What I saw was a lot of people having a very good time, some quite loudly. And I saw a lot of young women, in groups, in black dresses moving, well more teetering on infeasible shoes from bar to bar. Then it changed.

As the night headed towards the witching hour the gender balance changed. It was men in a the majority, young men in their 20’ and early 30’s, loud and boisterous but I would venture no more loud than I was when I was that age, or Mods were in the 60’s or 80’s, or Teddy boys were in the 50’s. Twas ever thus? The bars were now full and ques forming inside and out, good-natured and patient.

Then it was off to College Green and Park Street, now much busier than when I walked down it earlier in the evening. Outside the bars young men and women were smoking and the sweet smell of cannabis that had intermittently wafted around me all night returned again. I spoke to a young girl who was celebrating her 19th birthday with two friends. She was out to get ‘wasted’. That was her answer to my question about how she would judge her night to be a good night. She was not alone. Another group said the same, so did a stag party in fancy dress outside The Hippodrome. They were walking by as theatre-goers left a performance by the French Ballet. Both were having their own versions of a good night. There was and is room for all.

As I walked up Park Street there were many young women dressed for the summer on a cold November night mixing with men in Christmas jumpers, stag and hen parties all queuing to get in to the bar or club they would stay in until they could drink no more. They jostled with each other and the on coming traffic. The more sober supported those who had peaked too soon. Many had peaked to soon or were about to start the final ascent of Mount Booze. By now every bar or club had long, good-natured ques and pavements were a mix of the happy, the merry and the drunk with small, trickling steaming streams emanating from dark shop doorways trickling down towards College Green.

Was it intimidating? No. Was it a night out I could enjoy? Yes. Did I feel safe? Yes. There was police visible on foot and horseback, every bar had door personnel, and the crowds were out for a good time and were mostly having one.

Here are my concerns.

Speaking to a group of young men and then a group of young girls standing in a long queue outside a club on Clifton Triangle it was the money they spent to have a good time. One young man spent half his weekly wage on each Saturday night out, the same for another young woman. Neither was ‘foolish’ or ‘feckless’ or a front-page image for a black top tabloid paper. Nights out in Bristol are what they live for. Drinking was part of that, before they went out and while they were out.

Bristol has seen a 42% increase in hospital admissions attributable to alcohol in the last 6 years so something is clearly wrong, but it’s not just the city centre’s fault.

We all have a problem with alcohol and this week on BBC Radio Bristol I’m going to try to make sense of why.

This last week has been about the weak.

In Westminster last week the Leader of the opposition was called weak by the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister was called weak by the Leader of the Opposition. Next week neither will be there as they will both have a note from their mum’s saying they ‘can’t go as they are being bullied’.

Also it is the weak and vulnerable who will suffer with the coming winter fuel bills of the big six energy companies and their average of 9.2% increases in energy prices. What is actually being done about that? Naff all in reality. The ‘Big 6’ effectively said ‘not me mate’, Labour’s price freeze idea is totally potty as it can never work in the global energy market of today, the Coalition’s proposal of a competition review will take 12 months to reach a conclusion and shifting the Green tax into general taxation only mean you will pay more, just differently. It is going to be a long, cold winter for many so warm, snuggly Christmas jumpers might not be such a bad present idea this year.

All this has occurred against the background of Russell Brand calling for a revolution against the political class of today, those who seek to make a profit and pretty much anyone who is not him or who think like him. Free speech is a wonderful thing.

Yet it is free speech that is actually under threat by the very actions of those who benefit most from it, make money out of it and use it to fill the pages of our daily and Sunday papers.

Whether we end up the Royal Charter to govern and control the actions of the press, or they continue to ‘mark their own homework’ as the campaign group Hacked Off call it, one thing is for certain. Thanks to the actions of some journalists and maybe others on trial right now, our press and journalism will never be the same again in the UK.

But this is far bigger problem than just our UK press.

The world looks to us for a free press. Our tradition of free speech and a free press first gained its printed voice in the mewing 17th century newspapers and in the articles of Milton against the puritanical views of Cromwell and his the English Republic. If our press falls under parliamentary control other governments will use our newly ‘state controlled’ media as the very example they need to control, govern, censor what can and can’t be printed. Then it will be the same for broadcasting. Mr Brand may yet get his revolution, but perhaps not quite on the terms he was elucidating.

Why did all this happen? Why did the press do what they did? What made it okay for the press to rifle through the bins of Steve Coogan, ‘convict’ Bristol’s Christopher Jefferies on a series of front pages or hack into the phone of the then missing school girl Milly Dowler? You.

You bought the papers. You bought the stories. You chose the front page of the paper, you fed the beast. It is all down to you. And it’s down to me too. No paper, no journalist, no editor would have done any of the things revealed in the Leveson enquiry if you didn’t buy them.

So now we may not have lost the sensational headlines, but we have lost threatening, penetrating investigative journalism, challenging opinion and, most of all, the freedom of the press that we all enjoyed, maybe just a little too much.

The press will be weak from this last week.

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