Happy New Year, and Why it Should Matter

Many elements of our lives are ruled over by arbitrary constraints. Time is one of them. From a prosaic point of view, the sun rose on exactly the same planet, with exactly the same state of affairs as yesterday. The only real differences, that actually stand testament to the fact that time has passed, are that some people’s milk has gone off, and the postman has been.

Yet January 1st each year marks a change in all of us. It might be a short lived change – some mumbling about losing weight as we wander to the fridge to get another pie – but it might not. In many ways, the duration of our resolutions is irrelevant.

Why ‘It’s just an excuse to celebrate‘ are perhaps the most evil words in history

The thing is, even if God and Stephen Hawking teamed up to give a PowerPoint presentation on why celebrating the New Year is illogical and makes us all look stupid, we should still do it. The idea that a cheap excuse to have a party, or be happy, or decide to improve ourselves, makes those subsequent endeavours worthless is like saying, ‘Well, you didn’t really need to have sex, did you? You had biscuits in the cupboard and a DVD you haven’t watched yet.

If logic ruled the world…

What a dull place we’d all live in. No one would have conversations with their pets (although people who give each other presents ‘from’ the pets are taking it a bit too far even in our enlightened world of selective sensibility), librarians wouldn’t say ‘Shhhhh!‘ really loudly, and none of us would mind the lack of E-Numbers in our food.

No, what we don’t need more of is cold, hard logic. What we need more of is the warm brightness of human spirit.

Why not celebrate and promise to better ourselves?

The New Year breaks up life’s little tediums – going to work, walking the dog, eating cold soup from the tin because we can’t be bothered washing up a bowl. It gives us a chance to evaluate our lives, and remember our desire for something more, something better than what we have.

True, many of us will think small (stop flicking pasta shapes at the Pope), but others will aim high, and some will achieve their goals. And those that don’t still get a reason to party hard once a year with the people (and drinks, crisps, pizza, movies, television and celebrities) they love the most in the world.

Either way, I call that a win for us.

Happy New Year.

What are your New Year’s resolutions? Comment and let me know.

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At what point does a savvy customer become a greedy customer?

Listen to this blog post using the SoundCloud player below, or read with your eyes underneath. Don’t forget to check out my Christmas advent calendar of jokes by liking my Facebook page.

Three things have happened recently. Three things of relevance to this post, that is, and technically one of them isn’t recent at all. I’m sure more than three things have happened globally, or even locally for that matter. But I couldn’t exactly start this post with the line ‘1.8 million things have happened recently’. And how do you even define ‘recently’? That changes everything. Crap, this has all gone horribly wrong.

Start again…


The three things that have happened that are of relevance are:

  1. Everyone is getting very Christmassy
  2. The new Sainsbury’s supermarket has just opened in my hometown
  3. I saw a blog about people buying eBooks on Amazon, reading them, and then returning them within seven days to get a full refund

These things all combined to remind me of the Facebook status I read about this time last year. It was a status about why people should support their local, independent shops. However, it wasn’t a plea, and it certainly wasn’t motivational. I actually thought it was a tad aggressive, in that it followed the tone of ‘If you shop at the big chain store for Christmas presents you’re wrecking the livelihood of a poor, starving independent shop owner. You might as well go and stamp on their face as they try to eat their pitifully small turkey’.

This got me thinking, and over the year the issue of small shops versus big brands continued to bubble away in the back of my mind. As we approach Christmas, this issue becomes even more pertinent.

We are all just looking for value

The thing is, because that Facebook status seemed to imply that we were doing something wrong by shopping at big stores I naturally thought about my defence to the argument. The main reason that we will shop at the big stores is the obvious one – it’s cheaper. I bought Adobe Photoshop Elements a while back from Amazon. Why didn’t I buy from my local technology shop? Because it was £20 more expensive. £20 is a lot of Smarties. (Note: I tend to measure currency in terms of Smarties, just as I measure calorie intake in terms of Kit Kats – e.g. ‘Wow, that slice of cake was 3.5 Kit Kats!’).

As much as sometimes it would be great to shop at local stores anyway, regardless of the higher prices, I expect many of us just can’t afford to. When we can get more for less, it is so wrong that most of us choose to take it?

The plight of the independent shopkeeper

I don’t blame independent retailers for having the higher prices. It’s a matter of logistics, not greed, I know this. Amazon can sell a CD for half the price of a brick and mortar store, because they don’t have the same costs when it comes to overheads (when you’re a small company, it’s a lot harder to afford the expensive accounts who help you avoid paying tax). If independent retailers matched online outlets, or supermarkets, on price they’d very quickly go out of business.

So it’s not the retailer’s fault that there is such a price discrepancy. Are bigger companies being too ruthless? At what point does having a competitor turn into being dominated by a merciless rival?

Or should it be our responsibility as the consumer to pay the higher prices of independent stores to keep them in business?

Smarts or greed?

I expect a lot of us would like to believe that we are savvy customers (incidentally, I like the word ‘savvy’. People aren’t savvy enough. Whilst I’m on the topic, people need to swashbuckle more as well). We often boast to our friends of the great deals we’ve got.

Where the Amazon e-book debate comes into it, is that I would argue the practice of reading a book and then returning for full refund comes under the category of greed, rather than customer savviness. There’s a difference between exploiting the competitive nature of business to find the best deal on a product, and exploiting a loophole in a system to gain something for free.

But at what point does savviness devolve into greed? I would argue that the eBook thing counts as piracy. But who is it okay to rob business from? Going to a store’s competitor is stealing business from them, but if the other store has a cheaper price, as a consumer would you not be foolish to knowingly pay the higher cost?

And what about preowned games? The practice of trading in games is essentially a highly-profitable rental service for the companies involved in doing so (note – this business model doesn’t work with bandages, soup, or firewood). But it means that the games developers are missing out. They only get money from the first sale, but their game could be sold two or three times over. Think of all the Smarties they are owed.

How much responsibility lies with the consumer?

The problem with the trading-in system with games, or returning eBooks for a refund on Amazon, or just shopping in supermarkets that are cheaper than your local grocers, is one of availability. At the end of the day, we do it because we can. As the blog post about the Amazon returns said, the people returning these books aren’t ‘evil’ – they are just ordinary people who have found a way to make their love of reading completely free (If only there was some organisation of buildings that you could go into and come back out again with free books, which you can read and then return without having to pay a penny…).

At what point does giving the customer value become sticking two fingers up at the people who work so hard to create the things they enjoy in the first place?

But with the rest of life, we know there are lots of things we don’t do just because the opportunity is there. Like playing Wink Murder at a funeral. When it comes to money, things naturally get more complicated, because there is a fine line between usefulness and greed. But the problem with business, is fundamentally it is about making money. As consumers, we can’t be expected to treat businesses like they are charities. But is it OK to frame the issue in such callous black and white terms?

Perhaps, in a world where we throw way too much, can’t pay attention for very long, are used to things being transient, and our communities disintegrating, perhaps it is not such a personal sacrifice to buy one book from your local independent bookstore, as opposed to two or three from Amazon for the same price. Perhaps we need to stop thinking about what we are losing by buying a brand-new game rather than the preowned one, and think about what we gain.

Of course it is easy to say, and not so easy to put into practice, but maybe, if just once in a while each of us did this, we’d be making a large investment in the future of our community, our planet, and our intellectual capacity.

And there would be enough Smarties for everyone.

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How things change – the place that was

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I’ve given up and accepted the fact that I have to think about everything. Nothing just happens anymore. It goes into my head and gets chopped into tiny pieces and comes out again as a thousand questions, like pasta through a spaghetti cutter. It’s kind of annoying on occasions. I suppose the opposite would be to be totally vacant at all times, and that would be far worse.

What prompted my latest period of introspection was the fact a new Sainsbury’s has been built nearby. I like Sainsbury’s. Mostly because they have an apostrophe in their name. It’s the little things that count.

The location of this new store is in a very narrow field between two main roads, a sort of splinter of green land between the town I live in and the roundabout you need to go to in order to access the A roads which start you on the path of escaping Cornwall. Sainsbury’s new location is about 500 yards from a Tesco in one direction, and 500 yards from a Morrisons (no apostrophe, note) in the other. Penzance is only a small town. We now have more supermarkets than things to do.

Of course the locals complained

Penzance – in fact, Cornwall is general – is one of those places that time forgot. Or rather, the Cornish were offered time, didn’t like the change, and decided to stick with measuring the sun, thank-you-very-much. Anything new happens, the locals are up in arms and a committee is formed to protect the local landscape. As happened with Sainsbury’s. It was destroying the local landscape; spoiling the view.

What existed in that spot before Sainsbury’s was a tiny heliport: a large, rusty metal warehouse where the helicopter slept, and a small white shack that served as the departure lounge.

It’s not so much about Sainsbury’s itself, I don’t think. The locals here just don’t like change. When the local college was revamped, they erected a small Wind Turbine for the science students. Residents of one village claim they can hear it spinning, and they live a mile away. I’ve stood right underneath it, and it would be drowned out by a car driving past.

The shifting nature of a place

A couple of weekends ago, we went to explore the new store. As I said, there’s not much to do down here. It was an event. The local road now has a roundabout in the middle so that middle class people who desperately aspire to shop in Waitrose can buy Jamie Oliver products in orange plastic bags. We pulled up into the car park, with its slick, freshly tarmacked surface and its crisp parking bay lines. I stood in the car park then, faced by the glowing juggernaut of the new store (it was night time; the whole thing was quite beautiful, with its flowing roof, stone walls and wood cladding), and remembered that this used to be a field.

A field in which I had never been, but had driven past probably thousands of times in my life. I knew that field. It was green, full of helicopters and rabbits. It didn’t change at all in the decades during which it sailed by the car window.

But now, it is something completely different. The green grass is hard black car park. The rusty old helicopter hutch has been replaced by a gigantic structure, big neon orange signs everywhere. People who would never have set foot in a mere field now flock to buy croissants and wine and balsamic vinegar and Potpourri.

Which is funny, isn’t it? It’s like looking down at your body to find you’ve got donkey legs. Something so consistent, so unchangeable, has been completely transformed. Perhaps it’s grown up, like everything does? Perhaps that’s what the residents in Cornwall are afraid of? That one day they will wake up and everywhere will be carpark and aisles of fridges full of posh yoghurt.

We went inside and explored the new supermarket. It was very nice. I bought the latest Stereophonics album, which is also nice. I’d never have found that in a field with a helicopter.

And in ten years’ time, it will be hard to believe that there was ever a time when Sainsbury’s wasn’t there. I’d love to have some kind of siren go off in my mind at the exact point where it became pedestrian, so I could appreciate the moment it transitioned from something new, and worthy of considering, to something to take for granted. Something as permanent and unchangeable as a thin field with a spluttering old helicopter in it, and a few surely deafened rabbits.

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Do you have to be aggressive to fight for a cause?

Did you know – you can also listen to this post via Soundcloud below. That’s right, with your ears!

A bus drove past me the other day. (Imagine if that was the end of the story). It had a poster on the side of it that read ‘Some people are gay. Get over it.’ I immediately crossed off ‘Find out if some people are gay’ from my to-do list, replacing it with ‘Get over the fact that some people are gay’.

Now, in reality, I don’t have even the slightest problem with gay, lesbian, or bisexual people. I’m not even one of those ‘Well, as long as they don’t do it in public’/‘Try to brainwash me into becoming one of those homosexuals you read about in the papers’ people. It’s great that some people are gay. It’s great that some people are straight.


Love is love, whomever you choose to direct it at. What does it say about us as a species that we actively try and stamp out love, because it’s the ‘wrong’ kind of love?

It is, however, rather a strange feeling to share an ideology with a bus. I’ve never met this bus before. We haven’t even exchanged pleasantries. Yet, fundamentally, we both agree that those people who have a problem with gay people really need to find something more productive to do with their time.

However, I’m not entirely certain what this poster was attempting to achieve.

The message is…um?

As a copywriter, I spend a lot of time thinking about the right way to convey the messages I need to get across. You have to have a pretty good understanding of how people will respond to ideas in order to write something that hits the spot.

Presumably ‘Some people are gay. Get over it’ was written by a copywriter. Considering I haven’t yet written anything to go on the side of a bus, they are a better copywriter than I am. But if you look at what the response to those words is, compared to what it is meant to be, you can see the point I am getting at.

Intention verses actuality

Let’s all pretend to be homophobes for the next bit. No, that’s not a group of people who are afraid of sounding the same. We’re all walking down the street together (maybe we’ve just been out to buy biscuits; it’s a fantasy, go nuts). We’re all angry at ‘the gays’. Look at them, loving each other. Feeling compassion. Knowing the warmth that comes from being connected to another human being on a level beyond description. Wearing sparkly shoes. Grrr, they’re everything that’s wrong with this world.

A bus drives past us, informing us first of all that some people are gay. ‘I bloody knew it’, we tell each other, and we adjust our coats (which were made by children in a developing country), step around the homeless person asking for money, and say ‘These people feeling compassion are just plain wrong’.

But there’s more. Next, the sign has the audacity to tell us we should get over this fact. Get over it? As though being gay is something that does no harm? As though a gay wedding doesn’t end with a plot to steal some children, and as though a gay marriage isn’t made official by the ceremonial sodomisation of a vicar?

Annnnd…back to reality

The point is, if you are the kind of person who hates or fears gay people, this rather aggressive poster isn’t going to do anything productive. It’s going to get you angry, or defensive. When, in the history of ever, has a scene like the one below happened?

BIGOT: ‘Racial abuse at those people of a different race!’

BYSTANDER: ‘You’re being very racist.’

BIGOT: ‘Good grief, I am, aren’t I? What appalling behaviour. I shall apologise to those people then go home and mend my ways’.

As far as I can see, the whole point of the sign was to annoy homophobes. Which isn’t going to help. You can’t win someone over if they are angry, and feel backed into a corner. You have to draw people out from their prejudices.

Perhaps we should all love for a cause

Imagine how differently things would have turned out in York if those wonderful people at the mosque had, instead of greeting EDL protestors with tea, biscuits, and football, gone out and beat the crap out of them all? It would have proved, in the eyes of the detractors, that everything the EDL claimed about Muslims was correct.

You can’t bully someone out of their beliefs, for two reasons. One, because it doesn’t work. Two, because you aren’t really enlightening them, or teaching them anything new, you are simply plastering a new set of doctrines over their old ones. They may go through the motions, but are they truly accepting, or is a deeper, more subconscious resentment growing?

Being aggressive with bigots might make us feel better, but it doesn’t do anything productive. Look at feminism. If you go around accusing people of sexism all the time and flinging around the term misogyny, you get labelled as a ‘man hater’ or an ‘angry woman’. It’s by taking the time to explain to people, compassionately and respectfully, why what they are doing or what they believe is wrong, that your messages will get through, rather than being dashed against the barriers they throw up as soon as they feel threatened.

Which is why, while I respect the sentiment behind the poster, and agree with the aim it is trying to achieve, I think it will probably do more harm than good.

If I had a bus to write on, I’d have gone for something like this:

Note: I’ve imposed upon myself a limit of 7 words and no images – the same as the bus-side banner.

Kiss of life from a gay paramedic?

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