This week I have been mostly…

… getting increasingly annoyed by the Tories. It started last Saturday morning when I turned on the radio. Generally I feel as if I need to know what’s going on in the world but when I find out, I want to un-know it. Whenever I’ve listened to or read the news recently, I’ve wondered why we don’t just remove all the detail and put up a banner headline saying ‘The Tories are steering us to hell in a handcart’. Saturday morning, and all I’m aware of from the Today Programme is that the government think that the UK is populated by shirkers.

The misery continued on Monday, with Channel Four news reporting that we’re all going to hell… Sorry, to be more specific, that ATOS is either screwed, or is screwing us. Who can tell any more? Probably, it’s both. The marvellous Chris Grayling, employment minister, was spouting off on a topic about which he appears to know very little. According to Chris, it compromises the doctor–patient relationship for a doctor to say ‘actually you are fit for work’. Say what, come again? Since when has anyone been annoyed when a health care professional, whose judgement they trust, tells them that actually they’re quite well. Do this government not realise that the vast majority of people want to work and would be pleased to know this? What kind of human being thinks that others are glad to be told that they are ill? Do they think we’ve all got Münchausen’s? It’s almost as if the Tories cannot understand how humans can trust and respect each other, or want to do an honest day’s work without fraudulently claiming expenses to which they are not entitled.

Grayling ended by proclaiming ‘that’s why we look for specialist evidence within Job Centre Plus and not simply a letter from a GP’. Great, thanks for that one Chris. It is true that my GP is a medical generalist, rather than a specialist in occupational health. But I think GPs would find it rather odd to be told that their knowledge of medicine precludes them from saying whether or not someone is well enough to work. At the root of all this is the Tories’ base assumption that people do not want to work. Tories have a dim view of their fellow humans, and assume that everyone is a skiver. One can assume that most people want to work, and that a sick note protects them from employers. Or one can assume that employees dislike work, and that the sick note is a scam to fool employers. The Tories choose the latter option.

This time last year, I was one of those dreadful people who was off long-term sick. I was signed off for four weeks with depression brought on by work stress. To be frank, I was relieved when my GP told me that there would come a point when I was well enough to work. I was glad to know that the panic attacks, out of body experiences and suicidal tendencies would recede. And indeed since leaving a job in clinical audit and working elsewhere, I have not had a day off sick. In the meantime, the social enterprise company I worked for have lost various contracts. They have down-sized. The person who was my manager whilst I was at my most depressed has been made redundant, and the organisation is part of an investigation into the death of a patient.

Sometimes it really is the fault of the employers. Sometimes people are just ill. And you have to be rather sick yourself, though in quite a different way, to make the assumption that anyone signed off long-term sick does not want to get better, and is in fact some kind of fraudster. I’m not naive, I don’t doubt that some people are malingering. But this government is harkening back to the 1830s and the days of the New Poor Law. They are deliberately trying to make claiming for state help so humiliating and so difficult that hardly anyone does it. What they fail to realise is that the scammers will continue to scam, no matter how difficult one makes it. But the really ill and genuinely needy will give up, or just kill themselves. And as a taxpayer, I would far rather pay for the genuinely ill, plus a few fraudsters, than see genuinely sick people go through the humiliations of the current system.

To take my mind off all of this, I tried listening to some music. However, my CD player kept stalling. So I put in the cleaning CD. To add insult to injury, the cleaning CD stalled. Disconsolately, I left for the supermarket to get the ingredients for my pumpkin and apple curry surprise. The surprise being that I think no good ever came from eating pumpkins so I use butternut squash instead. Hunting around in the supermarket for a normal sized squash amongst all the huge ones, I was reminded of a previous trip during which there had been only two squash left, both of them distinctly phallic. Well I say phallic. A horse would have been proud, but nonetheless they differed from the usual enlarged pear shape of the butternut squash. I had found myself wondering if they were rejected because they made some people feel inadequate and others embarrassed. Not that other phallic vegetables suffer from this problem, so maybe what we fear is the thing which is out of place, which is not how we expect it to be. Or maybe I think too much in the supermarket.

I thought, there I go again, that maybe watching Strictly Come Dancing would give me a break from all the thinking, and all the ills of the world. It did, sort of. It was the Wembley edition and during the week, when Zoe Ball had explained that the arena was 20m by 40m I thought ‘oh, that’s the size of a dressage arena’. Turns out that in fact it’s a much better size for dressage than for dancing, as you can pick out a horse at a distance whereas a human just becomes a small whirring dot.

It was dreadful. Almost the whole thing. For the opening, the BBC decided to fill the stage with some sort of dance medley which might have looked great live, but on a TV screen just gave me the sense that either I was seasick, or I might be about to get a migraine. Russell Grant jumped a shark, or rather was fired out of a cannon. Everyone appeared to lose their sense of timing completely or perhaps it was because all I could hear was echo. And you know something is going deeply wrong with your life when you find yourself thinking ‘perhaps Jason Donovan can pull this back from the brink’.

QI didn’t help make me any happier. Fry was talking about the preservation of DNA from extinct animals, so that they could be resurrected via cloning. He was banging on about how marvellous science is whilst all the time I was thinking ‘Would it not be simpler if we didn’t hunt everything to extinction’. Apparently not.

On to Monday, and work, where we listen to the radio. And the radio keeps playing a hit by The Wanted. It’s that repetitive lyric ‘It’s a little bit frightening, I think we must be playing with lightning’. Please, please go out and play with lightning before you release another song. Failing that, am I allowed to shoot that lyricist?

I wasn’t really helped by the new John Lewis advert. You know the one. Small child, running around waiting for Christmas. Soppy music that I’ve only listened to once, though since then I have done borderline damage to myself in the rush to get to the remote control and the mute button in time. We’re meant to think that the child is desperately waiting to get his presents but no, the child is desperately waiting to give his mum and dad their present. Now frankly, you could see that one coming a mile off. And how could I see this? Because the child clearly isn’t normal. That child scares me more than Damon in The Omen. He will go through life leaving behind a trail of bewildered and frightened people as there is something about him that makes one realise that the universe is thin and that behind it lie night terrors.

No, that child and the world he represents are not normal. So what is wrong with me? Why, despite my belly aching that people are basically lovely and never fraudulent, can I not believe in this child? Am I really just a hardened cynic? That one stumped me for a while before I realised. I’m not the cynic, but the manipulative tossers who wrote the advert undoubtedly are.

Another week bites the dust

Saturday and unbeknownst to me, someone has announced that it’s National Stand in the Fucking Way Day. In at number three we have the couple who came to a sudden halt in the main doorway of Boots. I’ve given them extra points for comic value as from their bickering it was clear that one of them desperately wanted to get in there, whilst one of them desperately didn’t. The opposing forces being equal it was perhaps just physics that caused them to halt where they did. They still should have fucking moved though.

Second place must go to the couple who stood at the bottom of the down escalator, as enraged customers piled into the back of them. Not quite as funny as the other couple, but I’ve given them added danger points. Especially since the immediate danger was not to them but to other people. Up with that sort of thing, it’s what the Tories love.

My favourite, and definite winner, was the young man standing in the gateway that leads from a road (with cars and everything) onto a national cycle route, at the bottom of a steep hill. Meaning that anyone standing on their brakes (that would be me) desperately trying not to hurtle down the hill, and unable to ring their bell because their hands are on the brakes, was liable to slam into him. Well not him precisely but the small child and pushchair he was using to shield himself from imminent danger.

Yes, well done that man. I think Darwin awards are meant to be given out if you kill yourself before you reproduce, not if you kill your own child after you’ve reproduced. There really is no need for that sort of thing. Or perhaps there is. Here, have a biscuit.

The week meandered on. OK, I wish it had meandered. It sped. Before I knew it, it was Wednesday and I was listening to a BBC news report on the dangers of smoking in cars. Is this fear that whilst fumbling around for their lighter, a smoker might hit an innocent bystander? Dear god no. It was worry for the smoking driver, fumbling around, desperate for a nicotine hit. Why worry about what that might do to someone else, when you can worry about the self-inflicted build up of chemicals in your car.

All of this was explained to me by a lovely reporter, who drove along, facing the camera whilst chatting about the dangers of smoking in your car. She failed to mention the dangers of driving whilst not looking where you’re going because you’re talking to a camera.

Seriously, esteemed members of the British Medical Association, if you want to save lives don’t muddle around trying to get laws passed that the police will not have the time, will or ability to enforce. Instead, back road safety campaigns. Get drivers to concentrate on what they are doing, slow down, and stop thinking that driving is part of some kind of grand display of multi-tasking. Or campaign for me to be allowed to shoot bad drivers. Either really, I’m not fussed. But leave smokers to it. We all do stuff that is bad for us as individuals, and that’s our choice. It’s when we do stuff that is dangerous to others that we need a slap.

I switched channels to see if Ch4 was any better. It wasn’t. Now, I still have a soft spot for Vincent Cable. I remember voting for him in the 1997 election. Over a decade later and I enjoyed watching him waltz with Erin. But I really do think he’s deliberately trying my patience these days. There he was, explaining the jobless figures, and John Snow’s report on unemployment. John (lovely John) had been interviewing people in the north east who were, to use a technical term, utterly and irretrievably stuffed. According to Vincent (I don’t love you any more, Vincent) “there has traditionally been higher unemployment in the north east”.

Bloody hell Vincent. It’s not Christmas. It’s not traditional to be unemployed in the north east. It’s not as if it’s something like Morris dancing, haggis, fox hunting, or getting shit faced on a Friday night. Unemployment comes about as a result of socio-economic forces. It’s worse in the north east not because of tradition, but because the industrial base for which that region was famed was stripped bare by Thatcher. Tradition my fucking elbow. I shall now transfer what little respect I had left for Vincent to the lovely Mr Snow. The lovely, lovely Mr Snow. There is a special place in my heart for the cycling silver fox, especially in that advert where he’s stiff as a board on the back of a scooter. But anyway.

Thursday was a bit of an odd day. I found out that you can hang the Union Jack upside down, though my colleagues and I spent a little time trying to work this one out and concluded that you can hang it back to front, but not upside down. Apparently one must do this if one is in trouble, as a signal of danger. It is, however, a very subtle signal and one unlikely to be recognised by anyone other than a boy scout. If you are not in imminent danger, hanging it back to front is just rude, apparently. And if you are in danger, you’ll attract boy scouts.

Once home from work, and as a break from all this flag-induced angst, I decided to unwind by watching Frozen Planet. Big mistake as those bloody killer whales were back again. Oh no, wait, it was a leopard seal. Whatever it was, David was not allowing me to escape from the fact that nature is red in tooth and claw, as the streamlined predator knocked back a baby penguin as if it were an amuse bouche. Though I am fascinated by the penguins and confess that they make me think really shallow things like, “why don’t you just move somewhere warmer? With fewer seals”.

The week ended with a trip to Lidl, palace of delights. Lidl holds endless fascination for me, as I know of nowhere else where I can find a frying pan beneath a pile of wellies. Next to a computer keyboard and to the left of some very unusual cheese. And some waterproof trousers. And this week’s highlight, almost, an electric guitar. The actual highlight for me, however, were some Christmas themed candles. Some of them were in the shape of angels. I am now wondering what it is like to watch an angel slowly burn and dissolve into a puddle of wax. I may have to buy some just to find out, though no doubt it will make me think too much about life, the universe and the symbolism of burning angels.

So onwards to next week, when I shall be mainly getting my haired dyed. Gulp. It’s staying ginger, but going less grey. So long as I don’t look like a flaming angel, I’m sure it will be fine.

How to operate your human, part 2

 Instructions for dogs

Hello! And welcome to your human! We hope you enjoy it! They’re all round fun!

Handled correctly, your human will jump into icy water to save you, and attempt to protect you from stampeding cows, completely ignoring the fact that you can A. Swim and B. outrun cows, when some humans can do neither. Do not stop them from doing this, if they want to get wet (or trampled on) let them. Humans are odd creatures and like to think that they are in charge of you. You need to create the illusion that they are indeed in charge of you, whilst secretly embedding yourself into their home such that they think you are indispensable to their happiness and wellbeing. To do this, it is best to let them be in charge of the small things, whilst secretly making the important decisions yourself.

As any dog should know, the important decisions are things like when you go for a walk, when you are fed, when you have a ball thrown for you, and when you get your tummy tickled. A well trained human will be available for tummy tickling and ear stroking at all times. They should know when to scratch the bits you can’t reach, or can reach but would rather not bother with.

Being a dog is a balancing act. Humans expect and need faith, loyalty, a guard, a friend, and a sort of combination waste disposal unit and cuddly toy. In return for providing all of this, you should expect food, shelter, exercise and affection. They should give you what you want, without you appearing to demand it.

There are various ways of doing this but first you must perfect The Reproachful Look. This is the look you give them when they leave the house. When they eat something you want to eat (which is basically anything they are eating, even if they keep saying ‘look, it’s potato curry, you do NOT want potato curry’). When they don’t throw a stick or ball you drop at their feet and when they try to take you to the vet. Especially when they try to take you to the vet. You must look at them as if all the ills of the world are buried deep within your soul, as if only you know the true horror of existence, as if all they have to do to stop all this perpetual suffering, this endless hellish cycle we are all trapped within, is to feed you a large sausage.

The reproachful look may be accompanied by a faint, pained whine. Shuffle nearer to them and lean into them, sharing body warmth to show them how much you love them, and their sandwich crusts. You may also offer them a paw, as testament to the time-honoured bond between dog and human that says ‘what’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine and that pie looks soooo yummy’.

In the event of the reproachful look not being immediately successful, turn your attention away from the human and stare mournfully at the food. Ancient canine lore recounts that a dog once stared at a piece of steak for so long that the food levitated into the dog’s mouth. Remember, if it happened once, it could happen again and is always worth a try. Always be aware of where your human is. This makes it easier to climb on the table and nick stuff when they’re not looking. When the human returns, it is your job to convince them that the food actually jumped down off the table at you. Remember this really has happened before so there’s no reason your human shouldn’t believe it.

After food, walkies are the most exciting thing for all dogs. The great thing about walkies is that whilst the human thinks it is in control, it basically lets you into large open spaces, off the lead, when it hasn’t got a cat in a kennels chance of outrunning you and making you do what you’re told. Here, a good dog must perfect the art of selective deafness. If there’s something really interesting that you need to investigate, say a stick; scrap of food only perceptible to an electron microscope or a canine nose; a pile of vomit; a dead hedgehog; a living squirrel or another dog’s bum, lose all ability to hear your owner. As soon as they mention that they have a biscuit, redevelop your hearing.

You are helped in this by Mr Bruce Fogle, a vet and expert in dog’s behaviour. Mr Fogle is convinced that dogs will only know what they are being told off for if the telling off is immediate. So if you run around like a loony for an hour with your owner in hot pursuit ineffectually waving your lead around, your owner is not supposed to tell you off as soon as they catch you. No. According to Bruce the dog will think it is being told off not for running around ignoring its owner, but for being caught. Never let on that really you knew all along what your human was up to and just thought they needed the exercise. Do not alert them to the fact that Bruce is wrong. His theories are far to useful when it comes to training your human in how to handle you.

Humans do expect you to do odd things. They think you should walk quietly at their heel rather than run around just for the sheer joy of it. Also, after you have found the best smelly spot to roll in, they will for some reason wash it all off and make you smell of revolting artificial perfume. No dog has ever fathomed out why humans do this. It is best to go along with it, though you may protest all the way to the bath. You should also, once in the bath, do the Reproachful Look, and once let out of the bath, and before they can dry you, Run Away. This last is very important. Tear around the house like a deranged and possessed animal, scattering furniture and spraying water absolutely everywhere.

But the most important thing to remember about humans is your role in making them who and what they are. Humans can be argumentative. They can be downright cruel. They are often unhappy and that unhappiness is often their own creation. It is your job to be their best friend, and in being so remind them that they need not be these unhappy, spiteful creatures. Show them how much joy there is in a big green field, with someone to throw a stick for you. Show them that happiness is just a warm place to lie, a full belly and someone to scratch your ears. The rest is just window dressing.