Saturday, 28 June 2014

The Ethics of Beer

The little market town I live in has a 'Pound Pub'. It used to be called 'The Mayze' and once upon a time was a busy pub with a lovely secluded beer garden. The whole transition to a Pound pub literally happened over night but I think as the Mayze it hadn't been doing well for some time, I personally had it down to close or the Castle pub directly next door to close, both I thought were owned by the Yard glass pub company so I thought but the company behind the Pound pub is called Here for Your Hospitality who I think are under the umbrella of Sporting Inns, I really don't know... or care.

So as you cross the river into my town you're greeted by the Pound Pub sign which looks like it's been crayoned by a seven year old and completely goes against the impression the town gives on the initial bridge approach. The name is also something of a misnomer as an actual pint costs £1.50, a half costing a £1. Friends tell me there's a range of budget beers at £1.50 with cheap bottles and some more expensive drinks. The internal decor which is reasonably good hasn't changed, just the outside sign and the beer pumps inside. 

The ethics and indeed the psychology of these new pubs worry me. Governments have sought to regulate beer prices to curb alcohol excess which is now of concern in a society in which cheap alcohol is readily available in many pub chains, shops and supermarkets. Where is the governments moral conscience on these new type of pubs? Nowhere to be seen as yet seemingly.

In town we already have several cheap pubs offering beer at around the £2 mark or just under, then there's the Wetherspoons chain who sell cheaply but I'll defend them by saying their pubs are generally nice affairs, some of the newer ones are lovely and they offer quality beers and food at value for money prices. Let's be honest who doesn't like a cheap pint? Sadly what we have in this country today in many areas are run down pubs selling cheap beer that attract, well to put it politely - the wrong type of people.

This new bargain pub economy is simple though, sell cheaply and sell more. The psychology is much more sinister and manipulative. Whether alone or with friends, you're going to be tempted to linger just to have one more cheap pint, then another and on it goes. These companies buy the beer cheaply as its coming up to its sell by date with the goal of selling it before this happens or maybe in some cases still selling it after, the reality being you're not getting the product at its best by any means.

Personally I don't begrudge anyone a cheap pint in these tough economic days but I can't help feeling the whole industry has shot itself in the foot in the past with the rapid greedy price rises only to have to make u-turn because people simply weren't paying or opting for supermarket priced beer instead. In my eyes the industry peaked around the millennium and has been in decline ever since. The last I read around 25 or so pubs closing nationally a week, though in fairness new ones are opening, I'm not sure on the closing/opening ratio though. Ideally I think the £2.50 - £3 marker is fair for a pint though obviously you're going to pay more for premium, craft or imported beers. At fair price I think people self regulate really, sure we're all going to have blow outs but we're also conscious of cost whilst partaking in normal social drinking, money being a finite and not an infinite reality for us.

The new Pound Pubs bring nothing to the table of the great British pub tradition which has been built on character and individuality, they are the McDonalds of the pub world. They will propagate binge drinking to greater irresponsible levels and can only serve to increase social problems. Alas such is the nature of the British high street now, festooned with pound stores, betting outfits, charity shops, discount clothing marts and money lenders. It's almost like the centre of towns across the land have lost all self respect whilst unprincipled businessmen and corporate clowns are determined to purloin every last penny from gullible pockets in the guise of value for money.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Empire State Human

Sometime in the very early 1980s....

For some time I'd been visiting Blackpool every year for a weekend break with my mum, she was the secretary for a charity and each year around late September/October the charity would book into the same seafront hotel. This particular year I was a very young teenager in the exciting early 80s, for the first time the hotel had a table top Space Invaders video game, I was beginning to notice girls in an adult sense and my interest in music was growing by the day - I was an opening bud of adolescence.

I lay in my hotel bunk bed that night, images of Space Invaders in my head and fantasies about girls I'd been flirting hopelessly in the hotel bar earlier I began finally to drift off to sleep. I was sharing a room with a guy I regarded as a brother (a long story) and a few other older teenage lads who had headed off into Blackpool's illuminated night for revelry and drinks. Suddenly I was awoken, the light came on and voices sang 'Don't you want me baby..?'. The older lads sang and swayed, I rubbed my eyes and peered over the sheets, again they sang the same chorus as they sported stupid 'kiss me quick' hats. It was at that moment in time I was first introduced to the Human League, I've been a huge fan ever since.

Without any doubt, I am a product of my time. I'm not going to lie, I revere the 1980s as a decade, it's a period of so many memories (mostly happy) and of era of great music, so when I heard the Human League, Heaven 17 and Marc Almond were playing locally I just had to go.

It was a sunny solstice evening, sporadic marshmallow clouds drifting slowly by as Heaven 17 hit the stage. They may be bald and sporting ludicrously white teeth these days but they still sound awesome. Glen Gregory and Martyn Ware (the latter being an early Human League member) begin to belt out hits from their most popular two albums Penthouse and Pavement and The Luxury Gap. They've done other stuff over the years but those two albums are their most popular and iconic ones. I begin to drift into a warm fuzzy state of 80s nostalgia as I recite the lyrics to the songs. Heaven 17 produce a great set with slight modern tweaking to some of their material that make it more contemporary but it works all the same. Their songs resonate well and have stood the test of time, they may not have a wealth of material but that isn't always a bad thing, do what you do and do it well is my thinking here.
After a brief pause the almost non-existent compère announces Marc Almond.

The last time I saw Mr Almond was walking like a peacock through Soho, the epitome of effete dandyism though that was a good few years ago, I'm not sure what to expect from his act. He begins by producing a couple of his 80s gems, 'Bedsitter' being one out of the bag getting the crowd immediately onside. Personally I don't have a lot of his stuff on dvd, something I need to rectify but I once worked with a gay guy that played a lot of his stuff and kept me informed willing or unwilling of his stuff. My mind wanders what happened to him, the last I recall his partner set fire to himself and burned to death, momentarily I shudder and close the thoughts off as my mind concentrates back on the excellent music Marc is delivering. My friend concludes he still looks young, so I produce my monocular mini telescope and take a look. This reveals contrary evidence as I pass it to her, we both agree he's looking his age but isn't looking bad either. To the disappointment of some of the crowd (I saw a group in front of me moaning) he diverges into some of his other material, a track from his new album The Dancing Marquis. Shortly after we get his collaboration track with the late great Gene Pitney 'Something's got a hold of my heart'. I stand there thinking Mr Almond is perhaps one of the most underrated musicians this country has produced, his back catalogue is diverse transcending the 80s stuff people identify him with, his voice is still amazing, fuck ... he should have sang a James Bond theme. Not all the audience really get him, well that's my impression anyway but the important thing is that I get him and I bloody well like it.

After the very excellent Marc Almond set there's a pause, people rush off to the toilets or to gorge on burgers, the group of middle aged 'ladies behaving badly' in front of us requisition yet more beer as the anticipation builds for Human League.

I'm not going to deny I was excited, I've got nearly almost everything they've ever done, including the darker synth/avant-garde stuff they did before they hit mainstream success. They enter the stage opening with 'Love Action' before delving into their deep back catalogue of hits. I try to take some photos on my phone which has a half decent camera but the zoom is sadly lacking. As I have fairly good view in the crowd I stay put, fighting the urge to move forward, though the temptation of League singer Joanne Catherall is hard to fight as she shimmies and sways to deep synth riffs. The music returns my mind to a good place, listening to vinyl in my bedroom and the buzz of buying their new releases, my first forays into pubs and bars and a period in which though naive I was content.

The thing I admire about the Human League is their tenacity and ability to move with the times, sure their later albums haven't matched their earlier success but despite periodic contention, almost breaking up and recording knock backs the Human League are still here, still gigging and still producing great music, you can't fault their ambition and dedication to fans. As their set comes to a close they play 'Being Boiled' to my delight and encore their fine set with 'Together in Electric Dreams'. Oakey, Catherall and Sully remain rooted in British pop culture and I still love their music, perhaps more now than I once did, my appreciation steadily growing over the years. Not wanting to sound too sycophantic about them, I don't like everything they've ever done, 'Fascination' and 'Louise' are two tracks I've never been keen on but that's about it. 

The amps fall silent and gates open to let quick access out, I bid farewell to my friend and cross the bridge to one of my favourite pubs on the other side. How do I feel? I'll use a Human League track to describe it  - Empire State Human!

In closing I just want to say (and on listening to other opinions) that perhaps the Newark Festival isn't what it once was in some respects, which was a free festival for people of the locale. Many think it's turned into an outsourced corporate affair and are disgruntled that local people have to pay to get into something that's intended to be for their benefit. Ok, so I would have paid to see these bands regardless and such great acts don't come free but I really think the council should introduce a scheme in which if you can prove you have a local post code then you receive a considerable discount. Granted if its free nowadays you may be inviting trouble, people that don't give a damn about the bands turning up and causing mayhem but I don't see why a discount scheme for locals could be implemented. Many coming to the festival were fans of the above bands and had probably travelled in from different places (definitely judging by the different accents I heard) so by all means charge them the full amount but spare a thought for the local people who you are holding the festival (allegedly) for.

 Heaven 17
 Marc Almond (zoom in shot, sorry about quality)
 Marc Almond
 Human League
Human League

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

The Quest For Corduroy And The Worlds End

'London is a hot asphalt assault on sanity, the outrageous and the erotic, a whore house for the senses and it's begging for an evil little hobbit like me to fuck with it !'

The shower etches a hot watery tattoo across my back as I stand there, eyes shut pondering what the day will bring and if I have the energy to see it through. Rallying myself I get ready, choosing appropriate clothing for the heat of the city and a suitable backpack. Why am I doing this? I think to myself only two days ago I was in the local hospital casualty thinking it was game over and now I'm preparing to head off to London for the day. The sensible part of me is suddenly abandoned as the fatalist part takes over.

One last check of the trains online and I notice someone I knew has passed away whilst I browse on Facebook, not a friend but he was obviously a friend of people I know. He's my age, at school we were the same height though had different health problems. He had injections to boost things whilst all the doctors wanted to do for me was break my legs and put contraptions in to stop the bones knitting back together, thus encouraging them to grow. The truth is I never really got too friendly with this guy, in later years we didn't get along but the revelation of his passing reminds me of my mortality, sure I didn't really like him but I didn't hate him either as I recall he turned into something of a mini football hooligan mascot for some local gang where I once lived. His past demeanors aside I take no comfort at his passing.

Crossing the bridge at the train station later  I see a crow perched close by staring at me. 'Craw-craw!' it cries as it seems to look intently at me, as I stare back the only thing I can think of is at least let me get these shoes I want to buy today and possibly a half decent corduroy jacket.

The journey passes without event and soon I'm in the capital, an old friend I saw leaving the station returning from London had told me it was warm down there, on leaving my cloudy home town I wasn't convinced but it turned out it was rather warm after all. Descending into the underground I check my oyster cards credit, it shows £12 which is more than I thought I had, plenty to cover the days travel. Soon I'm on Oxford Street which is busier than I've seen on previous visits, people of all nationalities, shapes and sizes bumping into one another as they're transfixed by the retail treasures on offer. I decide to drift into one shop but don't last long, too many people and nothing remotely my style. As I Weave my way down the road sirens hit in suddenly, out of nowhere comes a whole cavalcade of police vans, probably fifteen or so all wailing loudly, I'm not entirely sure what's happening but I do notice the traffic is at a standstill and there's a feeling of rising contention in the air. Out of the busy crowds and traffic I make for the relative solitude of Berwick Street and Sister Ray records. To my horror the shop is empty and as I stand looking shocked at my reflection in the window I catch glimpse of a sign saying they've moved .... to the shop directly behind me! It's a smaller affair but still has plenty of stock, cd's upstairs, vinyl downstairs. Nothing much catches my eye except for a German girl that looks like a miniature Boadicea, long curly red hair cascading over her shoulders, small curvy with very agreeable features. Dragging myself and my lust out of the shop I head for Reckless Records further down the street but nothing takes my fancy there so I saunter to the first planned stop which is Underground shoes and the smell of leather and suede bliss.

It's hard for me not to get excited in this place, I love the shoes it specialises in, creepers, triple sole trackers and winkle pickers. As I try various pairs on a twinge of pain hits my chest, a reminder of Monday and most probably of recent excesses, I decide there and then to go with the winkle pickers, at least if I'm going to croak in the capital then I may as well have me some fancy boots. I talk to the the shop assistant who is from Nottingham, I've  met him before on a previous visit, he turns and asks;

'Would you live in London?'

'No' is my flat reply but I'm thinking I might die in it today wearing the boots you've just sold me.

'Well I guess Nottingham is my second favourite city' he adds.

Thanking him I bag my new footwear and head off into Soho, the sun shines down and people queue at sandwich and deli wagons to procure lunch. I like the bottom end of Berwick Street and that area of Soho in general, sporadic market stalls line the street as a small tower block looms over head providing respite from the sun, it feels like a town within a city, bohemian and seedy in equal abundance. Turning into Brewer Street I head for a favourite of mine 'Vinmag' which is basically a shop full of retro television, film and nostalgia goodness. I tarry for a while here and purchase a Thatcher key fob for a friend that got me the train tickets cheap, even though it grieves me to handle anything remotely Thatcherite but hey he's a fan so why not give a little thank you gift back. Next I walk down Great Windmill Street, a narrow little street that has a small school tucked away behind high railings, it always makes me smile when I hear the kids in the playground, it just seems surreal, right in the middle of a huge city. Crossing Shaftesbury Avenue I double back slightly to the lower half of Wardour Street but steer myself in the direction of Leicester Square through China town side stepping lots of Oriental tourists and getting a creepy smile off a suited businessman loitering in a doorway. As I hit the square choppers swoop in suddenly, sirens sound and after the Oxford Street sirens earlier I really feel something big is going down, hopefully the next revolution. As much as I want an insurrection, I want a corduroy jacket more and the only place I may procure one is Camden. Eyeing the choppers with caution I make for the Leicester Square tube station, I'd usually pop into the Trocadero but it seems to be a shadow of its former self these days and my arthritis is beginning to grind. 

Police choppers over head

I find Camden like I always find it, busy, eclectic and with its usual vibe. Goths, punks, tourists and downright weird people all rubbing shoulders on the busy high street. Feeling the heat and with a raging thirst I peruse the first market on the right briefly before falling into the Elephants Head, a traditional no frills bar and a favourite of mine. As much as I'd like a beer the recent health issue warns me off, I decide on a mineral water but my day quickly improves with the arrival of two very curvy American ladies in 1950s attire, have I died and gone to heaven already I muse? The sparkling water is effervescent pick me up, I gather my senses, type out a few texts and plan my next move though my stomach now tells me food would be a good idea, I know just the place. Over the road in the Stables market I sit down to a £4 carton of Chinese food, a mixture of chicken, rice, mini rolls and a few other things she's thrown in. For some reason I always choose this place, its near the entrance to the market so is great for people watching but it has a small side area with seating flanking  the counter. It almost feels Bladerunner-esque as I dine and the Chinese woman offers tasty free morsels to the passing crowds. Fed and watered its time for the real business of shopping but I take it steady, there's no urgency in my retail therapy and this yields rewards as I discover new shops and stalls. Alas it doesn't look good for a corduroy jacket, the first two shops reveal very little apart from a really yucky brown one that's far too large. I search more and just when I'm leaving the area of the retro shops I spy one more. Enquiring at the counter a small Scottish woman directs me towards a rail and there it is, a very lustrous dark navy corduroy jacket, will it fit? I ponder as I gingerly take it off the hanger. Success it does but may need some slight alterations on the length. I haggle hard for a good price and an Indian guy who is evidently the boss gets in on the act. In the end I get my way and walk off a happy hobbit, I also get a great t-shirt from the neighbouring retro shop too. Feeling quite hot I step outside and stroll to the very end of the market area, finding a new bar as I do. Pausing to re-arrange my bag I return to the main market area and hesitate at Cyberdog, shall I go in or not? The day has been expensive already so with a surprising demonstration of willpower I turn my back on it and meander through the alley ways to find yet another cool shop called Sai-Sai in which I end up buying a shirt and feeling really guilty at the money I'm spending. Slowly I walk back to the main street and over to yet another market area and sit by the canal to kill some time and try and make some space in my bag again. A black guy walks past, nods and smiles then sits just down from me briefly before returning and asking if I'm ok again. Then another guy who looks like a rough sleeper decides to sit next to me, I'm pretty sure what's coming next so decide to leave, only to be greeted by the black guy again who smiles broadly and asks 'Do you need some marijuana?'. Whilst I feel some could be of use to quell my screaming bone joints I politely decline and give him a friendly smile back before heading back to the main high street where I end up buying yet another t-shirt and bantering with the stall owner.

 Those curvy foxy American girls !

 Bar at the end of the market

 Elvis has left the building !

 Surreal !

It's coming up to rush hour and I decide to take my chances and brave things, I'm leaving a little earlier than planned but I'm tiring fast. My friend has given me a pass for the first class lounge at Kings Cross and I plan to use it. Reaching Kings Cross in relatively little time I ask for directions to said lounge which is a lift ride away. A guy checks my credentials before admitting me. The first thing I do is grab a cool drink of fresh orange juice and then pour a latte straight after before reclining in a comfy chair in front of a large flat screen tv. The place feels like an Ikea showroom, a bit bland really but comfortable and quieter than the main concourses obviously apart from a rather pensive businessman walking up and down chittering into his mobile phone. Watching the news I now see the cause of the previous drama on the streets of London. It turns out the cab drivers of the city had a mass protest at a new phone/tablet app in which people can book taxi cabs more cheaply. So the police despatched all those vans and choppers because of protesting cabbies?! Ok so streets were blocked but I can't help feeling the show of force seemed quite excessive in some respects. As much as I want to empathise with the cabbies having caught a couple of cabs in the past I can say with some clarity that they are really expensive.

Unwinding in the chair I reflect on the day, how its gone so quick and how happy I've felt in my own company. So I have my corduroy jacket and winkle picker shoes - if I want I can go and change into some seventies corduroy assassin revolutionary and lead the cabbies to Westminster and overthrow the government but I'm tired and quite content so it won't be today. Despite the dark start to the week and the bad omens my day in London has given me a refreshed sense of self belief. Whilst life exists the possibilities are endless, the revolution and London can wait until next time.

Friday, 30 May 2014

In The Shadow of Mount Athos

The gentlest of breezes creeps in from the Aegean sea as I sit beside old Petros, the resident handyman at the hotel bar outside by the pool. His fingers glide through his milky white forked beard as he tells me of his many adventures and the fact he can speak five languages. I listen intently though I'm beginning to feel intoxicated through Metaxa brandy, with his broken though very passable English Petros intrigues me deeply, his eyes glimmer with wit and intelligence, his long silver hair hangs around in shoulders in curls, it's almost as though I'm sat next to Zeus himself. The reality is I'm sat in The Sporades Islands in Greece, on the island of Skiathos next to a Macedonian man whose life has been far more interesting than my own......

Arriving in Skiathos, I wasn't sure what to really expect, the airport is nothing more than a large hangar and after traversing customs rapidly we had to wait on a very old German bus with no air con. The wait was caused by a Mr Foster who evidently saw it better to jump in a taxi and head straight off to his accommodation without telling anyone, nice man eh?

The next eye opener after Mr Fosters tourist treachery had been revealed some forty-five minutes later was my hotels proximity to the airport, literally two minutes down the road and we were the first drop off, we could have walked it, thankfully flights to the island aren't regular. The lobby area of the hotel was dimly lit affair, manned by a thin dour looking Greek guy adorned in a seventies style faux leather looking jacket and bouffant quiff, he was later given the nickname 'The Fonz'. We were directed to our room, which was a second storey basic affair, though to be honest I've stayed in far worse in the past. Suitcases opened and feeling refreshed it was time to tentatively find Skiathos town which thankfully was about eight minutes walk away. So off we headed not really knowing what to expect.

What we found surpassed my expectations, a lovely little town perched by the Aegean, whitewashed Greek buildings disguising a veritable maze of alleyways containing many a hidden treasure. It wasn't long before we found a bar owned by a couple of ex pats who furnished us with some knowledge of the locality. From then on in the holiday proper began.

The word Skiathos broken down means shadow and the second part refers to mount Athos which can allegedly be seen on a clear day from the island. Skiathos is probably one of the most beautiful places I've ever been, and I've visited a fair few places in my time. Everyday I got lost in fragrant alleys and streets festooned with all kinds of flora. I didn't see any litter, there's no McDonalds or KFC here either, sure there's a few gift shops but many sell local hand crafted gifts. Skiathos seems to nestle between two hills and thus contains a few ascents here and there, though nothing too taxing really, cutting through the centre of this small town is Papadiamanti street named after the islands famous author Alexandros Papadiamantis. This street leads away from the split new and old harbours which are divided by the tiniest of tree covered peninsulas called the Bourtzi and a ferry jetty to the other side of it. The Bourtzi was once a small fort in Venetian times but now houses a civil building and museum. Along both harbour fronts there's a myriad of Greek style restaurants of varying price, though generally more expensive than the ones in the back streets. Skiathos is an island where you can eat as expensively or cheaply as you want, for instance the harbour side restaurants can charge anything from 20 upwards whilst I was eating very sizeable portions of Greek food on the back streets for as less as €4. Drinks vary in price too, so its best to ask beforehand but that said they are often large measures and the Greeks being generous sorts you find yourself with more than the odd free drink. There's many taverna's worth seeking out in and around the town.

I was told the months of May and September are best to visit, June and July are very hot and as an ex pat put it to me 'The streets and alleys are so busy it seems a horde of sunburnt penguins have taken over'. People from all over Europe, including Greece descend on the small island from June until August and the population swells from the six thousand inhabitants to a staggering eighty thousand so I was told. It's in this quarter that the Greeks make their money as the winter months are considerably colder and quiet, flights to the island ending around the 10th October. If you want to visit after then its a flight to Athens, a drive to Volos and then a ferry to Skiathos, flights begin again in the spring time.

Anyway that's enough of the factual stuff what other things did I do? Well apart from exploring the town itself and surrounding area I went on a couple of tours one which took us over to the mainland and the lovely small fishing village of Kati Yorgis. Seeing dolphins up close was definitely a magical moment and also knowing I was a few miles away from the famous pass of Thermopylae where some of you may knew a few hundred Greeks changed the course of history. The port of Volos from where my namesake led the Argonauts on their famous adventures wasn't too far away but sadly on this day at sea mount Athos seemed to be shrouded in a mystical haze. As I sailed on the azure blue Aegean that I sat imagining many things from antiquity that had happened in this stunningly beautiful part of the world. Dipping my hobbit feet into the Aegean all of my troubles and ailments seemed to fade into the background, I felt peaceful, I felt like I'd found something I'd lost long ago - for those brief moments between sea and sky everything seemed so simple and serene.

Of course I had other adventures too, the abandoned town of Kastro and its eerie emptiness. I sojourned briefly in the old town of Skiathos where I greeted an old Greek lady clad in black with 'Ya-Sas' (a general Greek 'hello/bye') and she turned and smiled warmly repeating it twice back to me with sincere conviction. The Greeks are lovely people, kind, giving, warm and love to laugh.

Oh and beer? Well I had more than a few but to be honest I drank more wine, Ouzo and Metaxa really. Apart from Mythos there's a few other continental lagers to slake your thirst but as I'm essentially more of a real ale person these days I partook sparingly.

In the grand scheme of things, my little Greek odyssey in Skiathos is probably a drop in the Aegean to what there is to do and compared to what others have done but for me personally it was a little interlude of beauty and some quality time spent with my dad, not to mention a bit of self discovery.

On the last night I sit beside old Petros once more, though I suspect he's probably in his mid fifties, years of adventure etched into his worn face. He's told me much of his experiences, working at sea, the former Yugoslav war and when he learned of the fact I live in Nottinghamshire he tells me for many years he slept with a book about Robin Hood under his pillow. We sit drinking a Macedonian bottle of spirits he'd produced, a clear liquid that pulls no punches when it courses down your throat. We laugh and joke with the barmen Nikolas, Adonis and my dad. Inside I feel pangs of sadness encroaching fast, I don't want to go home. The next day I see Petros one last time and solemnly say 'Petros, it is time for me to go'. He embraces me and reminds me of my Greek name and bids me safe journey. I turn and leave with the thought:
  "Fortune favours the bold" - Virgil, The Aeneid.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Elder Scrolls Online

A month has passed since I began playing Elder Scrolls Online. Fortunately I got to beta test the game before it was officially released so had some idea regarding what was ahead, and as I saw things improve through testing I was all up for the finished product. So how has it been after a month?

Mainly trouble free to be honest apart from gold spammers (people trying to sell you gold... not real gold but game gold) constantly advertising or mailing you. As massively multi-player games go, Elder Scrolls or ESO for short looks pretty amazing and plays very well. Having dabbled with Guild Wars in the past and also playing Lord of the Rings online for several years I have to say ESO is superior in almost every way. That said things still need tweaking and more content need to be introduced to the game which I'm sure will come with time.

I do feel sad about leaving Lord of the Rings online as the community there is fantastic and I made some good friends playing the game but having logged in last week it seems bereft of players and very dated graphically. All things end I guess, I'm still keeping my account active for a while but I doubt I will play it much again. Having played all the Elder Scrolls games, right back to Daggerfall anyway I'm forging ahead with its latest multi-player offering and quite enjoying the ride so far.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Not Elected

The Queen has been in the news a bit lately, the recent visit to the Vatican and the recent visit by Irish President Michael D Higgins to the UK.

As much as I loathe the Catholic church at least the Pope is elected, as is the Irish head of state. Our royal relic, the queen is also the head of state but not an elected one, she and her family are there regardless of if like it or not.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Charity Choices

The 'charity' word seems to be a daily occurrence these days. Turn on your Tv set and you're greeted by adverts asking you to donate to a whole multitude of charities and institutions. Walk through town and usually you'll notice someone with a collection tin or more often than not these days a clipboard who wants you to part with money or donate it via monthly direct debit. Retire to your home or the local pub and there's still no respite, a Tv application on my ipad now has charity appeal adverts before the app starts and pubs often have charity tins or events. Basically charity appeals are everywhere.

As a nation the British are very generous, we give millions unquestioningly away every year to countless charities. Many are very just causes and we all identify with different charities because of how life has shaped us whether it be having lost a friend or family member to cancer or a love of wildlife and pets. I don't have a problem with people giving to a charity but I certainly do object to how in your face charities are these days from the above examples to 'chuggers' (slang for charity muggers) chasing your through a town centre to coerce you using simple psychology or fake bonhomie to part with your cash. Charity is big business nowadays, high streets are lined with their shops staffed by wage free volunteers with our second hand items marked up at a handsome price. Such shops even get tax breaks and incentives so invariably profits rise. I'm not knocking charity shops, I've bagged many a bargain in them but a recent radio debate about them highlighted just how they are making it pay with prices comparable to some high street chains.

How many billions have we given to charity to save malnourished or diseased Africans over the decades and yet the suffering still goes on. Many questions boil down to ethics. Are we actually solving matters at the root of the problem or just stemming the tide? The moral philosopher Peter Singer once said;

'The interests of all persons ought to count equally, and geographic location and citizenship make no intrinsic difference to the rights and obligations of individuals'.

As I mentioned earlier its not unreasonable to question peoples reasons for giving but do we always give to causes in the greatest needs? And how can we with so many? There's other ethical reasons like should we give to charity as it can interfere with the autonomy and self determination of the recipient or they may live in a country who has a questionable regime?

Dr Neil Levy argued that charity can be self defeating if it allows the state to escape its responsibilities. Another good argument by Reinhold Niebuhr in his work 'Moral Man and Immoral Society' raises the point that negro schools (back in the 20s/30s) were good at addressing self realisation and learning but no good at solving social injustices negro's suffered at the time.

Moving on from heavy ethical or utilitarianism arguments to me charity has to be something tangible, I need to see or at least feel that my money is making a difference. An example? Well last week I was asked to donate to Sport Aid and politely refused. Although there were incentives such as a raffled prizes I often feel such circumstances that I'm not really sure where my money is going. Later that day I donated a small amount to a local bird sanctuary that often displays the wild birds it cares for on my local market place. The point being in donating to the latter I can see the birds are being cared for, I can readily see where my money is going. Lastly I'd like to add regarding Sport Aid that how many top earning football stars donated a weeks wages for it?

Returning to the Africa subject. I once had a chat with a civil engineer guy who was working out there and had been responsible for installing water wells in remote villages. They instructed the tribes people to use the water when needed and not leave the well tap running. On returning a few days later they found the well almost bereft of water and more alarmingly noticed people drinking water from the ground of the partly flooded village, even worse on turning a corner they noticed a man defecating nonchalantly just yards from where children were drinking water from the ground. This goes back to the earlier point of solving the root of the problem or just stemming it.

Ironically we can send money to distant African nations to seemingly apathetic people we see on the tv screens yet we vilify our own poor, many of whom are having to go to food banks because of financial hardship or economic circumstance. 

My grandmother always used to say the phrase 'Charity begins at home' which is derived more from John Wycliffe and John Fletcher than as some claim - The Bible. In these times of austerity and economic hardship I feel that more than ever we need to stop and think where our money is actually going and what exactly its being use for. I do empathise with people in the third world, in fact I like to think I empathise with people the world over but I won't be cajoled or made to feel I have to give to charity just because others around me are, for me its about an informed choice and a personal one.