Employmentalism

I have just watched a broadcast on the BBC Parliament channel showing a hearing with chair Damian Collins, various MPs and a bunch of BBC presenters – Paul Lewis, Liz Kershaw, Kirsty Lang and Stuart Linnell. It was FASCINATING.

It also pertained to me on a personal level. So I was interested and vestedly so.

It’s all about IR35. And that means tax.

Liz pointed out that HMRC is going after the “low-hanging fruit” by attacking individuals who are either self-employed or who work as contractors (self-employed but as an incorporated – or limited- company), instead of going after the big tax-dodging multinationals.

It often seemed to be torn between traditional political lines – Labour/ Socialist/  Trades Unionist/ Employee lines versus Conservative/ Capitalist/ Freelance lines.

This comes up time and time again – I recall the Uber thing recently. It’s no good trying to get the modern world to fit ye olde worlde politicale partye crap.

That is not to say that the issue is simple, nor that a solution to the various problems is easy. Not at all. But then again, it’s not terribly difficult either.

I recall Thatcher’s Britain: she encouraged the Self. Companies would pay off 51 % of their staff on a Friday, and they would turn up on Monday to do their exact same job but this time as self-employed or contractors. They would have received a lump sum redundancy payment – this bought them shares in Sid (British Gas), allowed them to buy their council houses, put their kids in private schools, get a mobile cell phone and so forth.

This simple idea – to make people entrepreneurs/ self-employed/ MDs of their own firms – was designed to weaken Trades Unions and provide the engine for home-ownership, and the world as we know it today (for good or ill).

I have been self-employed (Schedule D), but when I work in the construction sector that is not allowed, so I have had to work via Personal Service Companies, umbrella companies, and incorporated – or limited – companies. In addition, I have worked direct (invoicing the client) and indirect (invoicing an agency who invoices the client).

I love it.

I feel free. I am free from office politics, back-biting, arse-covering, career-building, aspirational social climbing, blaming, bickering and laziness. No one, employers, trades unions nor anyone else can tell me what to do.

My tiny wee Limited Company invoices my clients/agents and I take out what I need (not what the company is paid). I pay VAT, I pay PAYE, I pay NIC, I pay Corporation tax, I pay an accountant and I pay an agent to pay me each and every week for each and every hour I worked.

I could “go direct” and invoice the client myself – but that means I would have to wait until I got paid. Poor cash flow, irregular income and the stress of chasing payments and keeping track is a pain. Sometimes you have to withdraw labour or threaten to, sometimes you have to sell the debt (factoring) at a knock-down rate just to get some income to pay the bills. Working via an agency means I always get paid each week, and they get to chase the client for outstanding unpaid invoices. Lovely.

My wee tiny company pays me when I am sick or on vacation. It can pay me and my family BUPA or whatever other benefits I choose, from mobile phones, Christmas dinner to a company car and everything in between.

However, the BBC presenters presented this differently – that because the client the BBC) doesn’t pay the contractor (the presenter) for sick days or holidays, there is a trade-off; the loss of “security” (as they put it)  is traded off against the higher rate of pay. My view is that it is a mistake to confuse the limited company with a person. The presenter’s company pays them as employees – and should pay them – all the proper benefits; sick pay and holiday pay has nothing to do with their client, the BBC.

It’s a subtle point, I know, but important.

The BBC presenters definitely confused the person with the firm. This is probably because there is an important difference between people who like working that way (me) and those who are forced to set up self-employment or companies against their natural disposition and inclination.

The trouble is that there is no current distinction, and so whatever is decided by the government will favour one over the interests of the other.

IR35 has been the sword of Damocles for 18 years and it seems to be getting near to crunch time due to media coverage of what’s going on at the BBC.  I personally do feel anxious about this direction of travel – the mood seems to be about ruining my life. HMRC is coming after me as a tax dodger! Yet it’s simply not true! I pay all my taxes and take all the risks. I have to have professional indemnity insurance, I have to keep on top of continuous professional development, I cannot settle down to my job and become lazy and complacent at my desk.

Yet I have sympathy for Liz Kershaw having to return to work too soon after her planned Caesarian sections. The life I chose (and like) is not suited to her, and she was forced into it. I get that.

Did Liz do this to dodge tax? No. Did I? No.

The BBC is a publicly owned and funded corporation so it cannot be seen to dodge tax. But why put it like that? Why deliberately confuse the company with the person to score political points?

Why doesn’t HMRC leave us alone and get on with catching the big multinational tax dodgers instead?

Better still, why do we pay all those MPs, MEPs, MSPs, councillors and civil servants? if we cut them back we wouldn’t need to raise so much tax to pay them all.

 

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Snowtime

There was a “RED WEATHER WARNING” last week, so I worked from home. Because of Skype, I had to take care of my appearance more than usual, make sure the background was tidy and gave off a semblance of professionalism, and that my children didn’t make too much noise.

So, no, I didn’t sit unshaven in my pajamas all day.

This video call stuff – as well as speakerphone calls, screen-sharing, and conference calls, make working at home possible, but it’s intense; there’re no coffee break chats, no waiting at the photocopier, and no sneaky peeks at the internets.

Of course, when work is finished, it’s equally intense snow stuff with the children. I’m getting on a bit now, so building a snowman, having snowball fights and trudging through thick snow in a freezing white-out blizzard is tough for me. My feet were cold and wet through. My face was rouged and my hands zinging.

Here’s the thing, though. It was probably good for me to get a bit of physical activity. Good to get a bit of fun. Good family time, and a hard day’s work as well.

To then relax beside the log fire as the children did their piano practice, then dozing off to some silly old film makes snow days quite special. Full on, but special.

I have heard people moan about the weather. I know the shops were closed, and that people did a bit of panic buying so we couldn’t get fresh eggs or milk for two days. Well boo-hoo. That’s not the most terrible thing that could happen.

Like everything in life, it’s not what happens to you, it’s how you react to it that is important. What you do about it.

I bet that a lot of people, like us, got more things done and had a great time overall thanks to the weather. Having said that, I am looking forward to getting back to the office – to “normal” – for a rest.

Internethead

Unhappiness and screentime are related. I don’t want to bring up unhappy children. But there is Peer Pressure, Social Media, and Boredom to deal with. My children weren’t happy with me taking away smartphones, laptops, and tablets, but then studies show that they would be unhappy if I don’t take this stuff away – and worst, I could end up with depressed (and potentially suicidal) teenagers. So I had to do it; as a parent, it’s my job.

The charity Action For Children finds that a staggering one in four parents struggles to control their children’s screen use.

The first thing that had to change was MY use of these gadgets; you lead by example, don’t you? This is also hard.

Insidiously, this stuff has replaced the old ways of newspapers, wandering around shops and looking at clocks. I wasn’t looking to be a new age hippy or getting all Jesuit about it. It’s about increasing happiness.

These gadgets can be useful, as long as they are not addiction driven, or considered the default. People are fidgets – that’s why everyone smoked cigarettes in the bad old days. These days it’s the phone. Bad habits for idle moments.

So I began last November (2017) by coming off social media, leaving my phone behind, and demonstrably using gadgets less. Cookbooks were taken down from the shelf. Clocks told me the time. I used my brain to remember where places were and I figured out how to get there.

Have I got happier? Yes! I would say so. I went onto facebook today – for the first time since – and I no longer need to participate, after all, who cares if I “like” or “share” something that I instantly forget and really only was a knee-jerk reaction to show some level of approval? Vanitas. Bottom line is that my views are not terribly important, the effort is wasted.

So I am relieved and happier to have broken the bad habit. What about my children?

Well, this has been more difficult, to be honest. But it really does make a difference. I have seen it with my own eyes.

It’s all about showing them HOW to use a device as a tool for a purpose, and not to depend on it to alleviate boredom. My wife keeps saying that boredom is good as it makes you more creative; you invent something in daydream moments and similar weird mental states (like the eureka moment in the bath, or when waiting for a bus, gazing out of a train window, or sitting under a tree like Isaac Newton).

I do think it is weird and dystopian when I see crowds of children wandering to school each morning while staring at the screen on their mobile.

The biggest problem for my wife and me is that we slowly allowed the screen to allow us to get mummy-daddy time. The screen was a babysitter. My son now says “I’m bored – what can I do?” and he’s looking at ME. That is the challenge – see the Bob Granleese article below for what’s it’s like to try this.

The other aspect that gladdens my heart is that it reduces all those other risks – grooming, adverts, cyber-bullying, brain-washing, and exposure to radicalisation.

It is hard but rewarding. As a recovering addict, I would recommend less social media and less screen time to everyone. Go do a blog every few weeks if you cannot go “cold turkey”.

The main thing is to say goodbye to being an internethead.

Refs:

“Phone-addicted teens really ARE miserable: Scientists warn young people should limit their screen time to just two hours a day to boost happiness” By HARRY PETTIT FOR MAILONLINE PUBLISHED: 14:11, 22 January 2018 | UPDATED: 19:55, 23 January 2018

“Teens who spend less time in front of screens are happier — up to a point, new research shows” By Tara Bahrampour 22 January 2018

“Why are British kids so unhappy? Two words: screen time” by Bob Granleese The Guardian Thu 7 Jan 2016 12.24 GMT

“Limit children’s screen time, expert urges” By Hannah Richardson, BBC News education and family reporter
9 October 2012

 

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

I was always told that people were innocent until proved otherwise.

It’s about something called “The Benefit of the Doubt”.

It’s a default position. It puts the onus on the accuser so that we can all get on with life without having to defend ourselves constantly.

It’s a good idea; the bad guys get caught and the good guys that are wrongly accused are safe.

Except that it’s no longer true.

It worries me that “allegations” and “accusations” have predominance in the media these days.

As far as I can tell – at this point in time nothing has been proved against Jimmy Savile, Kevin Spacey, Woody Allen, James Levine, Harvey Weinstein, Louis CK and many others.

So – in law and supposedly IRL – these guys are safe and innocent until a jury decides guilt. Right?

 

Good Can Win Over Evil if…

In RL Stevenson’s “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, it is clear that everyone has good and evil within. To remove the evil in order to be 100% pure good, means that the 100% bad part is freed into the wild with dangerous consequences.

Although the total good or evil remains the same, the effect is a strange case indeed. Perhaps it’s not what you do, but the way that you do it? Perhaps we ought to have the internal good v evil battle to “win” and be virtuous or worthy of the afterlife in heaven… or something.

It is a fascinating novella, and a great subject for discussion and thought. However, the most interesting notion to be teased from this work is, for me, the external manifestation of good and of evil.

Let me go further, does the good erase or in some way make up for any bad that someone does. I don’t mean atonement or penance, not exactly (although that is also very interesting), rather, I am taken with the idea of someone inventing or discovering something, but being a thoroughly disagreeable person – perhaps even considered evil.

I know that this is a poor introduction to what I am on about. Sorry about that. It’s just that it seems to come up again and again in recent times.

Take Wagner – a brilliant, innovative and unique composer – but a Nazi sympathiser and Jew-hater. Even today, his music is taboo in Israel. Can it be possible or reasonable to separate the man from his work – to allow yourself to enjoy his music and disagree with his politics?

In recent times in the UK, it has become clear that in some celebrities at least, the evil side of the personality triumphed from time to time. Jimmy Savile became a prominent BBC radio and television personality, gained fans and followers, brought entertainment and enjoyment to millions, and raised over £40 million for charities. However, it seems he might have had a dark side as a sexual predator. All of which has come out after he died.

Do the allegations and accusations overthrow or trump the good works?

Should they?

Rolf Harris was a role model – someone to look up to, a national treasure, but he’s in jail for sexual offenses. How should I feel about that?

Wagner was open and unapologetic, but no-one knew any bad things about Savile until after he died. Harris’s dark side was hidden – but he was found out while alive, and brought to justice.

Some people say that we ought not to speak ill of the dead, and I am inclined that way myself particularly if nothing can be gained by raking up evil.

Take Savile – he did good works and died. His bad side was then discovered. The big question I had at the time this came out in the media was – why did no-one speak up while he was alive to defend, respond or be brought to justice. If he was prolific as is suggested, surely some of the blame has to be borne by those who, by keeping schtum, allowed further abuse to take place. But all-in-all, what overall good would come of posting allegations over the front pages? I do think that the end result of this particular case is to negate the good. So the whole thing is just pure Mr. Hyde.

Wagner is different. He did not hide his antisemitic views. I wonder that – if he had held them as a dark secret – would people stop liking his music upon discovering “the truth”? Another thought – would his personal beliefs make people listen to his music? And so what? Does anything matter? If his beliefs were not known, what difference would it make to his music, and how it is received as music?

Pop Stars align themselves with political movements – should they? Should it matter to us? Should I stop liking or listening to their songs?

Rolf Harris is different again; he was disgraced and will pay his debt to society. By going to jail, by apologising and atoning, he is cleansed. In theory anyway. Harris faced justice, and gets a clean slate – so all his works, his TV, his books, his paintings – even his pop songs, all should be OK to like – shouldn’t they?

My thought is that we should always be inclined to good, to an exemplary life – even if fake. Why? Because fake is normal. We each have good and evil. We do good and bad, we have to try to let good win. Good must outweigh bad in the scales.

That way lies hope.

Savile did good for more people than he did bad. That’s tough to type in this climate; it goes against everything just now. Same with Harris. Unlike Savile, Harris was found guilty – and is paying. Wagner didn’t even DO anything; he merely held a view that is unpopular. Why can’t we just focus on the good stuff as a default rule? Doing so doesn’t condone crime or evil or unpopular extremist views. Really it doesn’t.

Michael Jackson was a long list of accusations of child abuse, and yet it is widely considered acceptable to enjoy his musical legacy without a care about all that – why? Why is Jackson different from Savile? Jackson didn’t do as much for charity as Savile – Jackson was keeping his money for himself. Is this a double standard?

I remember when Rock Hudson died and it came out that he was actually homosexual. He clearly did not want this to be known while he was alive. He did not want to represent homosexuality. that’s just who he was and what he wanted to do. To out him after his death is not really fair to my mind.

Now I am not for one minute suggesting that homosexuality is evil or that Hudson’s dark side contained his gay secret. I am suggesting that he was careful about his public image and probably would have wanted to maintain that as his legacy. What good did outing him bring? People today look at him playing the very heterosexual male roles in pictures, and know what he really was – and that was likely to be exactly what Rock Hudson did not want to happen. People may even boycott his films because of that. I have heard of Christian fundamentalists taking that view.

There seems to be a popular trend for seeing the bad in people, in revealing things that ought to be hidden, and I don’t go along with that.

If someone was struggling with a personal issue, a dark side, a kink, an addiction – whatever, what business is it of mine? What good does it do society at large to display the flaws sufficient to overshadow any goodness?

I would suggest that the sooner we as a society drop this trend in favour of role models of positivity and good, then we can return to aspiration, looking forward, making good, advancement, and betterment.

Ups & Downs of The Market

Right after Brexit’s result, the markets dived. Right after Trump’s win, the markets collapsed.

And everyone points to the drop in the markets as though these indices were in some way a reflection of how well a country is doing. But that is simply untrue.

The big fuss about the Dow Jones Industrial Average number is ridiculous – an arbitrary selection of 30 companies, not even the biggest or most well-known, record their share values and this rather silly and unrepresentative value is then divided by a weird number that someone came up with in the 1800s (which we over-egg by calling it an “algorithm” in today’s parlance).

The Foostie, the S&P 500, the Hang Seng and the rest are indices of the stock market. That is all they are.

This is about the rich people.

When an index rises, this simply means the rich people are getting richer.

When an index falls, then rich people are losing money – and if the drop is significant enough and for a long enough time, then there is a chance that it might actually affect real, everyday people like you and me because companies may shed employees, or close down altogether.

This means that in a recession, everyone loses.

But at all other times, it is mainly about rich people and their value on paper.

Trump wins the election in the USA and the markets drop in value. OK, Boo hoo – rich people have less dough for a few hours because Trump then makes his acceptance speech and the markets rise to previous levels and above. So the rich people don’t lose a penny after all.

I just don’t get why the news media keep reporting the ups and downs of the markets when it is mainly only of interest to the rich – to people who own shares, to stockholders – do you know any?

It seems to be used as evidence of the foolishness of the masses to vote the way they did. The flavour is: Look what you did! See what has happened?

The markets are not a true reflection of the state of economic or political heath of a nation – these indices do not account for the common man – there is no consideration of inflation, currency exchanges, GDP, interest rates or anything other than the gambling value of company shares being traded by computers at break-neck speed over fibre optic cables.

Whenever I hear a news bulletin report the Footsie 100 or the Dow Jones, I grind my teeth and wish I were rich enough to give a damn.

 

Touching design

As a design student, it was impressed upon me the importance of how users intimately interact with a product design. I have never forgotten the handshake, the contact points, and I still use it to decide which things to buy. It’s how I evaluate everything, a benchmark.

I remember how BMW made the interior light fade instead of just switching on or off, and how that made me feel it was somehow of superior quality. How my CD player grabbed my disc solidly and drew it into the slot – how the lid of my cassette player slowly slid open – the sound of a Jaguar car door shutting.

Similarly, I remember so many things that felt lightweight, plasticky and cheap.

I was chatting with a colleague at work about vinyl making a comeback. He said “Why? the sound is terrible, and you get scratches and hiss.” He was genuinely puzzled.

That was when I realised how much tactility we’ve lost – and how that might be something we feel lacking today.

A digital file might sound better, and be conjured up easily on a phone or laptop – but with vinyl there is handling. The design handshake. You get artwork, a card sleeve, the disc itself and the ritual of taking it out, putting it on, and turning it over when the side was played through.

This is common to all audio formats – cassette, CD or 8-Track. You got a “thing”.

Reading a Kindle book is great – cheap and very convenient. But it also lacks that handshake. A book feels, smells and looks better – and an expensive book – a hardback with a dust cover – is a prized possession to be cared for.

I worry about the future in this respect; driverless cars, voice activated audio and video and more besides. If you are not driving the car, how can it thrill?

At one time, people bought a daily newspaper – it  was used as a tablecloth, a napkin, to wrap chips, scrunched up to clean stainless steel and windows, rolled-up to swat flies, stuffed into damp shoes, cut into party decorations, used to draw a coal fire… it was read, the crossword was done, articles clipped out, ads circled, moustaches doodled onto the photographed luminaries. It was laid under carpets and used to fill gaps in window frames.

Today, we read our news online, listen to the radio or watch TV.

I’m no different; I stopped wearing a wristwatch in favour of the smartphone. I put away my cassettes, videos, CDs, DVDs, LPs, 45s, reels, books, magazines… I will ask Google before looking up a dictionary or pull a book from my shelves. I threw out my maps and atlases years ago in favour of my sat nav and google maps.

My TV is too thin to have a decent speaker, and I have lost all concept of quality, accepting whatever my phone or TV gives me. I put up with slow browsers, buffering, Freeview digital “Max Headroom” glitches. This is what I have become.

My pens have dried up, my watches stopped. Nothing ticks, nothing takes time to dry, nothing needs a tactility skill, fingers swipe screens and click mice.

I have playing cards, chess sets, wind-up toys and board games in a sealed box in the cellar. My children play with tech, and buy apps. Will they grow up with no understanding of what a new book feels and smells like? What it’s like to be given a designed product as a gift? Will they know or miss knowing that feeling you get  when you clean the capstan and recording heads, when a tape desk has been demagnetised, when a record has been brushed, when a guitar has been restrung and tuned, when a car was driven with joy and appreciation?

Will they care about design? Will they grow fond of a thing? Will they relate to the ghost in the machine?

I wonder if vinyl’s return reveals an innate need…

 

Petty Crime for the 21st Century

The way we shop has changed – along with the way we steal.

My mother shopped every day, sometimes more than once. She would take her shopping bag and buy just what she needed for the meal or recipe – a couple of slices of this, a few scoops of that. This type of shopping made it difficult to steal because you were served by a counter assistant on a one-to-one basis.

Stealing relied on sleight of hand skills and misdirection. You could ask for something on a high shelf, for example, and while the assistant wasn’t looking, items could be pocketed. You could use an accomplice too – this helps with misdirection, and while there were no CCTV cameras or smart tags, the risk was direct and personal.

I know of people who are nostalgic for such days; they miss the thrill, the adrenaline rush, the risk of shame and humiliation. Even when there was no criminal intent, this was present; the shop assistant knew exactly what you were buying – pornographic material, condoms or ointments for thrush.

Perhaps because of the personal interaction element, the embarrassment factor or the need for privacy, shopping changed, and along with it, the crime.

Supermarkets introduced baskets, trolleys and check-outs. The thief only had to put items in a pocket or otherwise avoid the check-out till. Shopping was much faster and less embarrassing, but so was shop-lifting.

It is possible that the losses, at least to some extent, would be offset by the savings in reduced staffing levels and relying on technology like CCTV.

But people are inventive, and with each new innovation in shopping comes an innovation in crime.

Today, we have the Self-Service-Checkout.

Thieves must be delighted with this – it makes everything so much easier and less risky. If caught, one can simply say it was an innocent error.

George Charles of VoucherCodesPro.co.uk carried out a survey of 2,634 people aged 18 and over about their shopping habits and use of self service checkouts.

About 19 per cent said they stole from Self -Service-Checkouts – and the majority said they stole regularly.

Helen Dickinson, Director General of the British Retail Consortium (BRC), said: “Theft from stores pushed the direct cost of retail crime up to £511m last year, 166 per cent higher than five years ago.”

Of course, this generates more vigilance – usually in CCTV at this area, but what if there was a way to go undetected by CCTV?

Well, it seems that there is a way. I was recently told of a popular method to rob a store blind while appearing to do everything properly and honestly.

Here’s how it works:

You do not scan your expensive steak, instead you turn the barcode from the scanner, and weigh it on the scales instead. You select a cheaper item – so instead of paying for steak, you pay for apples or a potato or something about the right weight. This allows you to put the item into the scaled bagging area, where it will be expected.

Nothing looks amiss; on the CCTV, you have scanned everything, and no alarms have been sounded. You pass through the door scanners too – you have a receipt, so you can even return items later. Everything appears above board.

So what can the shops do?

The answer to that might just be from Amazon – the new Amazon Go shops.

This idea seems a way to stop stealing – but on the other hand, it removes ALL the people – these stores do not need the same numbers of CCTV and store security personnel – and no till operators. Even if they are not foolproof (remember with each innovation comes innovation in crime), the saving in not paying staff might make it worth it.

I saw this with Uber recently too – they are having problems with trades unions and worker rights to the extent that they are heading down the driver-less car route.

The summary upshot and bottom line is that – as a result of petty crime over the years, the drive has been away from employees toward technology. The removal of people is what is going on. Less jobs, less face-to-face interaction, less embarrassment, less risk, and fewer thrills. Online shopping, cashless, credit cards and mobile smartphones, have heralded a new future where people are diminished in favour of technology.

I’m not sure I can make sense of this future – fewer jobs for people usually means fewer employed earners that are shoppers. We are being sold a future where we can shop without a queue and get a driver-less taxi, but can that be true? Will this only be for those few with jobs?

And what of those people with no jobs? Will they create an alt-society? Or will they innovate new criminal ways as before?

Only time will tell.

Sexism and Politics

The Trump sexism thing has really blown up.

Recently, the Washington Post found and shared a secretly recorded conversation (from 11 years ago) between Access Hollywood’s Billy Bush and Donald Trump. They were both lewd and Trump boasted that he can do anything he wants to women because he’s a television star – including “grabbing them by the pussy.”

Since then Trump has become the US Republican Presidential Nominee, so it’s a big deal – right? Sexism loses votes – doesn’t it?

I am not sure because of what happened in Australia with Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott, and the famous “Misogyny Speech” given by Julia Gillard on 9th October 2012.

At that time Julia Gillard was Australia’s first female Prime Minister (from 2010-2013), and she suffered a lot of lewd comments every single day as leader of the Labor Party and as PM. She was very often openly called a bitch and a witch, and widely mocked in the media. Her hair and clothes were always being commented upon, and all of it was about her gender – not her results, leadership, effective governance, debating style, intellect or politics. And she put up with it every day until she snapped and made the speech that went viral on the internet.

In this famous speech in parliament, she directly faced Tony Abbott – the Leader of the Opposition sitting across the forum – and let loose. She did not miss. She listed all the things he had said and done to her right to his face. It was a roast.

“I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man; I will not.”
– PM Julia Gillard about Tony Abbott

Gillard described comments by François Hollande and Helle Thorning-Schmidt: “The president of France congratulated me on the speech, as did the Prime Minister of Denmark, and some other leaders, just casually as I’ve moved around, have also mentioned it to me.” US President Barack Obama reportedly complimented Gillard on the speech in a private conversation following his re-election, and his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, praised the speech as “very striking” with Gillard going “chapter and verse.”

Some dictionaries updated their definition of “misogyny”  from “hatred of women” to the broader “entrenched prejudices of women.”

This was a Big Deal – Global leaders’ support, viral video, dictionary redefinitions, massive support and encouragement… so what happened next?

Well, Tony Abbott got over his roast, everyone forgave him for the sexist comments he made and his world-famous misogyny… and he became Prime Minister of Australia from 2013 -2015.

So, hey, it’s just the way men talk, it’s Locker Room Banter; all bravado and silliness. Boys will be boys, eh?

And clearly perfectly natural, totally forgivable and totally forgettable.

 

 

How to Get an Instant Divorce

I was once witness to the terrible consequences of loose talk, and have been very careful ever since.

This happened years ago. John and I were in the pub trying to chat up two girls who had already told us they were married.

I had seen this all before – girls who were married didn’t go out on the town by themselves. If they weren’t lying, then they were unhappily married. That was John’s theory, so we continued undeterred – and they seemed to like it (and us) – however, as the drinks flowed, talk got looser.

It turned out that Julie was indeed unhappy in her marriage, her husband was a useless unemployed drunk. She was fed up earning all the money and working long hours just so that he could lie on the couch all day drinking.

John had had a few by now. He knew he was too drunk now to make good any amorous advances, but his mind still worked, albeit without the usual constraints of caution, propriety and inhibition. This was one of those turning points. A game-changer.

He leaned forward and spoke so softly that we all had to lean in to glean what he was saying.

“I say you dump this guy and move on; you can do better for yourself and you’re not getting any younger.”

“But I can’t – he needs me, he depends on me…”

“No, no, not at all; you’re actually keeping him down. Cut him loose; it would be the best thing for him. Believe me.”

“But where would I go?”

“Go? No, you go nowhere – he goes.”

“But I can’t just throw him out without a reason.”

“Is he bad to you?”

“No, not really, he’s bad FOR me. As I said, he just does nothing. He’s always just lying there zonked out on the couch in front of the TV, a waste of space…”

“If I could tell you how to get rid of him in the quickest, easiest and most painless way possible, would you be interested to hear it?”

“I’m telling you he won’t go just like that, it won’t be easy …”

“But it could be; I know a way – and you’d be the hero too, you’d be the good guy and he’d be the bastard. Would you be interested in hearing the plan now?”

“Yes, I flippin’ would, because that’s nigh on impossible, John, seriously!”

“OK, here’s what you do: you go home, you find him zonked out on the couch as usual, dead to the world, right?”

“Right.”

“Right, so you carefully place the lamp on it’s side on the carpet, and do the same with ornaments, pictures, and whatever else you have. Make it look like there’s been a struggle and things have been knocked over. You can even extend the idea to another room, pour something on the carpet, whatever.”

“And all this while he’s drunk asleep on the couch?”

“Exactly. Now you need to rip your blouse, get your hair pulled this way and that, ruin your make-up. Girls can do wonderful things with make-up. All that matters is that you have to look like you’ve been beaten up in a big struggle. Then pick up the phone in the other room and cry and sob and wail down it that he’s gonna kill you and plead for help to the police.”

We all stopped and looked at John. Julie’s eyes were as big as her surprise could make them.

“But the police will arrive and wake him up – he’ll just say he didn’t do it…”

“Ah, but,” John said, “They won’t believe him – they’ll see you, they’ll see the state of the place, and they’ll drag him out of there in two seconds flat.”

I chipped in: “Just say he passed out waiting for you to come out from hiding or something.”

“But – and I’m only asking for the sake of argument – what would happen next? Wouldn’t he just get let off a warning or something” Julie asked.

“Well, the police will warn him not to visit you because you would have seen a lawyer.”

“A lawyer?”

“Yes, a lawyer – to stop this violence once and for all…”

“What violence?”

“All the months and years of suffering that he’s put you through, and that you so skillfully hid from the world. The physical and mental torture you kept behind closed doors, you poor thing!”

“Jeez. He’d deny everything…”

“Yeah, and who’s gonna believe an unemployed drunkard who beats his caring wife and then blacks out?”

And that is how the evening went. Drinks were drunk, thoughts were thought, drunks were ejected onto the street, into cabs, and home to sleep it all off. It was just chat, it was pub banter. We knew she wouldn’t have the gumption to carry out such a nefarious plan – who could?

Look, she must have loved the guy to get married in the first place. She must still love him if she’s been putting up with him as he is. And like most women, she probably thinks she can change him. And like most wives, she’ll be long-suffering.  If they don’t survive, or prevail, after a fashion, they’ll eventually split up somewhere down the line – because that is what happens.

That is what is supposed to happen.

But Julie did listen, and what she heard resonated within her. She had the power now, and she liked that. She could be proactive, she could pull the plug any time that she wanted, and that was excitingly empowering.

When she got home to find her once-beloved lying on the couch pissed, and beside him was a half-finished takeaway curry and a splash of vomit drying into her good carpet,  she realised that she was no longer in the mood for all this.

.oOo.

It was six months before I was back in that particular bar. I was early to meet up with a couple of pals I hadn’t seen since uni, and there she was in a booth. I caught her eye and nodded in polite recognition – the usual cursory acknowledgement before turning to the barman. She was suddenly beside me.

“I did it!” She pulled on my elbow.

“Eh? What? You did it?”

“Yeah – I did it. I got rid of Charlie!”

“Charlie?”

“Aw, don’t you remember? We were all here a few months back and your pal John came up with a scheme to help me get rid of Charlie…”

“Nah! No way! Are you saying you did one of John’s madcap schemes? You took all that seriously?”

“I am – and I did!” She beamed.

“Jeez. You seem happy on it…”

“I am indeed. Never been happier – I have a new man too.” She indicated a chap over in the booth. “He’s great. We’re great. Together. It’s night and day. John turned my life around – when’s he coming in?”

“Oh, he’s not – I am not meeting up with him tonight, just other pals as it happens.”

“Ah, well, I wish he was coming because I would just like to than him for being a genius!”

“Did it all go to plan then?”

“To the letter. Charlie didn’t know what hit him! You know what’s most funny about all this? Charlie believes he’s been blacking out and battering me. He believes it himself!”

“You’re joking!”

“No – it’s been the best thing for him too; he’s dried out, sorted himself out, turned his life around. He’s even about to start a wee job! I just cannot thank you two enough! If Charlie knew, he’d probably thank you too!”

And that was that. From a careless, half drunken rant, a dream schemed up on a lager’d evening to pass the time – an amusing diversion… to wham! And lives have changed forever! Cause and effect. Consequences.

And before you think that it all worked out for the best – just as Julie told me – it didn’t.

Julie’s was only one side of the story.

Charlie’s version was rather different as we found out later… but that’ll keep for another time.