The cheapest shoes in the shop

For a man, I have an infeasibly large shoe collection. It built up through the hoarding principle ~ this pair might come in useful one day? With each pair, there is a story. For most of them, their day has come. Their usefulness is limited to the tale they are about to tell. I’ll restrict myself to one narrative adventure each but just imagine if footwear could talk!

Fantastical though it sounds, the first chronicle in the series is absolutely true. What on earth motivated the main character?

Scrapper Duncan's photograph of his cheapest trainers ever (c) 29th September 2014

The cheapest shoes in the shop

I bought these after walking into a crappy sports shoe shop in Churchill Square, Brighton and asking for, “The cheapest trainers in the shop, please.” The staff man attending me replied, “We don’t have the cheapest trainers in the shop.” When I pointed out that this was a technical impossibility in a shop visibly stuffed with shoes, he shook his head disdainfully and said, “I remember you from last year. We do not sell the cheapest trainers. Please leave before I call security.

I remembered him too and that he didn’t seem to share my sense of humour. He looked down at me as if anyone asking for the cheapest shoes in the shop lacked the necessary aspirations to make it anywhere in life. He may have had a point. Feeling emasculated and desperate not to look up at him as a useful role model, I persisted. I said, “Please don’t call security, I just want to buy a pair of really cheap shoes. Look!” He followed the line of my pointing finger and his eyes settled on the pair of rubbish trainers above.

He frowned and said, “What is your problem? You cannot buy these shoes. They are too cheap to sell. I am telling you, I will not sell them to you. No-one here will sell them to you. Please leave, I will not ask again.

I love a challenge. Luckily, having practised at The Bar, I have mastered the dark crafts. Definitely, this was an appropriate moment to deploy them. I looked him in the eye and started to work my magic. He shifted about uncomfortably, whilst we discussed the merits of the next cheapest pair of shoes. I tried them on and took them off again. “Nah, I’ll take the cheapest ones.” He lost it and called security.

I seized them and ran for the counter at the back of the shop. The staff woman looked a bit surprised when I said I didn’t want the box because I was in a real hurry. Then she said, “Are you sure you want these? No-one ever buys these shoes…

The purchase was just completed when the security guard tracked me down. “Excuse me, sir”, he said, “have you bought these shoes before? Right… I’m going to have to ask you to leave and never return.” It was a fair cop. I didn’t.

How I destroyed hundreds of people’s personal data

Scrapper Duncan's photograph of a blow torch ready for data destruction (c) 29th September 2014

Blow me down

Two days ago I began a final purge of my personal possessions. For spiritual reasons. Plus I don’t have much space. It is my 5th purge of 2014 and, in many ways, the most painful. I’m deeply grateful to @lacatchat for stepping in to correct what could have been a serious mistake. Consequently, I’ve still got a couple of pictures my late sister, Shona, drew for me when she was very small. She didn’t get very far in life, so her early abstract art pieces are all the more precious. It took me the best part of a day to bin my remaining childhood possessions, my early poetry and some draft novels. However, it wasn’t just my stuff in the mass of material due to meet its master. It was hundreds of other people’s lives too.

Scrapper Duncan's photograph of CD-Roms about to be blow torched (c) 29th September 2014

Disc-respect

Bits of their lives became inextricably linked with mine when I was their barrister. Their legal disputes got lodged on my hard drives and on some back up CD-Roms I made along the way. I wasn’t in the right mood to dismantle the laptops and take on their inner workings. The pictures in this blog post speak for themselves.

Scrapper Duncan's photograph of CD-Roms being blowtorched (c) 29th September 2014

Fired with enthusiasm

Be under no illusions. This is the only way to securely dispose of data. Everything other method can be reversed. You can overwrite everything you want with ones and zeroes to your heart’s content but it can all be reversed, by the use of mirror clones and complex algorithms. Once a script has discovered your overwrite sequencing, the whole lot will unravel. Of course that might take some time. But probably not as long as you think. Machines become ever more powerful. You can chop things up into very small pieces but each piece can still contain several files because the data density is much sharper than a Stanley knife blade.

Scrapper Duncan's photograph of melted data discs (c) 29th September 2014

Passed through fire

I could go on but you get the point. As did most of the Guardian’s readers after the bloggers fell about laughing when that left-wing scandal rag demonstrated its patriotic loyalty by blow torching and angle grinding a computer said to contain its only copy of the Edward Snowden files. Bless. Because that really stopped the information coming out, didn’t it? This method won’t erase all awkward data, it will just end your responsibility for it being found. Luckily there are no international fugitives in my case files.

Tabloid newspapers will pay money for ‘found’ hard drives etc., They have the means to extract whatever it contains. If you have any sort of professional standing you had better encrypt everything, just for starters. The red top proprietors make a very comfortable living by embarrassing people just like you. But after you’ve thrown something away, something digital, it just sits where you threw it and waits to be found. Whilst your life becomes more and more interesting. This process is like shredding your bank statements before chucking them into recycling. Fire buys you peace of mind.

Anarchist councillor stirs up more trouble than any other politician

Photograph of Councillor Ben Duncan of Brighton & Hove City Council (c) 29th September 2014

Councillor Ben Duncan

This is my friend Ben Duncan. Take a good look at him. He’s an anarchist and a trouble-maker of the worst order. I was walking along the Lewes Road with him this morning when I spied this graffiti. So I asked him to stand beside it for a portrait photograph. It seemed appropriate, what with him being a vegan and not averse to a spot of guerrilla politico-art appreciation.

He’s also the only reason anyone had ever heard of Caroline Lucas before she stood for election in Brighton Pavilion. That’s because when she was a Green MEP, he was the chap she paid to promote her. I forget his exact job title. He worked really hard and Caroline’s star rose accordingly. But Caroline doesn’t appreciate Ben’s sense of humour any more. After various right-wingers complained about his recent tweets, she called for him to be expelled from the Green Group of councillors in Brighton & Hove.

Unfortunately for Ben, as well as being the most radical councillor in the country, he also has a particularly cutting sense of humour. On Monday 6th October, he has to face his umpteenth Standards Hearing at the City Council. Many voters may surprised to learn that local councillors impose disciplinary standards on each other, as if they are a private club. Personally, I had believed that the only sanctions for elected politicians speaking freely were the law of the land and the ballot box. Not so. There is this third way, whereby our councillors can waste public money in an entirely pointless disciplinary hearing, which has no sanctions.

Ben’s been through so many of these disciplinary processes that I have literally lost count. Quite possibly this is his 18th! He’s defeated the charges in all of them bar one, which related to him speaking to a police officer on duty in his then capacity as a member of the now defunct Sussex Police Authority. The copper felt intimidated by him, apparently. You might want to look up at his picture again and decide for yourself whether he is the scary sort. Apparently the officer in question was scared of political scrutiny. Scrutiny has been abolished now, with the advent of Police & Crime Commissioners.

Why is Ben back on the naughty step? He joked about British soldiers being killers and some people’s perception of Islam as a violent religion. Anyone can go along to watch the proceedings but that won’t be easy because no-one yet knows (including Ben) what time the hearing is.

Funny old thing, a sense of humour. It is very difficult to limit the topics available to it, without being oppressive. We used to say that we might not like what someone said but our democratic credentials were proven by our staunch defence of someone’s right to say it. Obviously the Greens must believe in some other version of democracy. One which doesn’t involve free speech.

Why I’m a peaceful vegan anarchist straight edger

Picture of punk band Minor Threat and hashtag #sXe

Minor Threat coined the term “straight edge”

I’ve been vegan plus dangerously high levels of butter since January, when I did #Veganuary. After a month of being vegan and with my then girlfriend also on the same boat, it was easy to carry on. It is cheap, healthy and ideologically cool. Having been vegetarian for 26 years, I used to say to people that I didn’t care what they ate with the unmeant words, “It is your soul in the next life.” There is another, more compelling reason to go vegan: to give your kids a decent world to live in. It’s the single best way to reduce our carbon footprint. My monthly lapses into vegetarianism, when visiting friends, will now end.

I don’t smoke, take recreational drugs or drink alcohol. Confession: I only definitely decided to quit the sauce yesterday. Everyone I know drinks, most heavily. It isn’t pretty. I know they will continue to enjoy my company ~ c’est moi ~ indeed, they will relish it. Life is wonderful if you know how to enjoy it and have the blessings to enable that. Getting wasted is nothing more than a distraction. I was teetotal until the age of 26, when being obliged to have one too many dinners at my Inn of Court broke me. Gray’s Inn is exempt on the tax on alcohol forever by decree of Queen Elizabeth 1st. For services rendered in a war against Spain. It’s a pity they weren’t exempt on food related taxes because the meals were appalling. To outsiders, I only ate there because it was a requirement to qualify as a barrister. Strange days, full of pomp, circumstance and social exclusion.

I’m a reluctant anarchist. I’ve been a member of the Labour Party and the Green Party. Both sold out to mindless apologists for capitalism, who just want to tweak the flavour of the shit we have to eat. I’ll describe the details elsewhere. Suffice it to say that signing a letter to Downing Street is not “resisting the cuts to the greatest extent possible” (The Green Council in Brighton & Hove) and Labour’s betrayal of the working class hardly needs explaining. In the absence of any meaningful party to proffer economic change and after a hundred years of parliamentary democracy, I have concluded that parties are a pipe dream. From here on in, I’ll be spoiling my ballot to distinguish myself from all those people who just can’t be arsed to get off their sofa.

All killing is wrong, all life is sacrosanct. All violence is counterproductive (witness those early Christians and the Roman circus lions), although it can be justified in defence of others.

I definitely didn’t convert to being a vegan anarchist straight edger because of the music scene attached to the subculture. Most of it is dreadful.

The English Left is dead ~ Long live the Scottish Left

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of Alex Salmond (c) 17th September 2014

Alex Salmond on a good day

Tomorrow Scotland might decide to leave the United Kingdom, despite the increasingly dire warnings from top capitalists and other establishment figures. According to people who largely live in London, independence is okay for various small, poor countries but it will be an economic disaster for a relatively wealthy country. This is such an important thing to understand that these people have left the argument to the last possible moment. Almost as if they have been embarrassed into making it at all.

Meanwhile, absurdly, all the main English politicians are now offering some kind of sop to stay in the union, as if it is entirely within their gift. The proposals remain mysterious, like a small parcel accidentally added under the Christmas tree at the last moment, unwrapped and unknown. No sensible voter in Scotland can be expected to fall for the idea that the Tories can be trusted, let alone the LibDems, and certainly not on a promise of no detail. We have to feel sorry for the Scottish unionist who must now feel that her vote for the status quo has been furtively removed somehow.

Throughout all of this, something truly remarkable has happened to electoral engagement in Scotland. The record-breaking voter registration anticipates an exceptionally high turnout. The last elections in England ~ for the risible posts of Police and Crime Commissioners ~ proved that democracy can fail for want of interest. Here in Sussex the turnout was a meagre 16%. When people know that there is no political difference between the parties, they don’t bother voting. What is the point? In Scotland, there clearly is a substantial and very serious choice between independence and whatever the shifting positing of the No Campaign may be.

The English Left has overwhelmingly supported the campaign for independence. That’s despite its victory spelling apparent disaster for left-wing views in the rump UK. The reason is very simple but unspoken for largely superstitious reasons: the English Left is dead, we just haven’t had the funeral yet. A grave injury was given by Thatcher and then the Labour Party turned the knife repeatedly. It was a long, slow and painful death but, following the Green Council’s decision in Brighton & Hove to impose cuts to public services after all, the body was finally delivered to the morgue this year.

Although there remain still some loud voices, in the blogosphere or in trendy places to graffiti, articulating leftist thought, the organised Left is dead in England. Everyone is reading the same menu. Essentially it is a neoliberalist economic dish, served with various degrees of a smile. “Would you like a food bank with your poverty, sir?” The Greens differ on energy and defence policy but they too are funded by millionaires or people who work in private healthcare. The only anti-capitalist thing about them is the bit in their policy document which uses the phrase “anti-capitalist.

We want Scotland to leave the UK because we recognise that the mortal wounds inflicted on the English Left did not cross the border, that Scotland has consistently, for decades, been more substantially more socialist than England and we want to see an inspiring country on our border. This is our last will and testament. We hope that English politics will change for the better in the future, when Scotland forces us to see a choice over some issues. Like illegal foreign wars, for example.

An English guide to Scottish politics

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of five different coloured clothes pegs (c) 9th September 2014

Pick your peg

Many English people are deeply confused about the state of politics in Scotland right now. They know there’s a major vote coming up, which will allow the Scots to decide to quit the UK. That’s the easy part. The difficult part is all those differences of opinion being thrashed out in the debate. English people are not used to different parties having different policies. Down here in England’s deep South, it’s all about which coloured peg we want to hang our clothes on. All the pegs serve the same function with the same level of success and/or failure. Sometimes a shirt slips off the washing line but that is usually the voter’s fault for not hanging it up properly. The pegs compete for the clothes in various  meaningless way.

Before the Greens protest too loudly that they are substantially different from the other pegs, they had better remember what they did in Brighton & Hove. They chose to cut services so as to stay in power on the basis that they were nicer axe wielders than the other axe wielders. Scientists are still searching for a cigarette paper thin enough to place between them and the yellow or red pegs.

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of clothes pegs and Alex Salmond (c) 9th September 2014

Not the traditional picture postcard of Scotland

Scottish politics is very different. Firstly, the Green peg has betrayed the General Principle of Peg Solidarity. Most significantly, one of the pegs is neither the right shape, nor painted in a bright colour and, worst of all, keeps shooting his grubby little mouth off about topics which a loyal subject to the future descendant of Prince Harry’s father ought to know nothing about. He is called Alex Salmond and if the UK breaks up, it will all be his fault. In Scotland, he is  credited with mystical powers in Scotland, allowing him to appear on almost any show, whether it’s children’s TV or something aimed at adults who think they’re highbrow. Across Europe, he is credited with being the most successful politician of his generation. In England, most people only became dimly aware of his existence about a month ago. Just long enough to learn to hate him. Plus, if he wins, he’ll be conveniently foreign.

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of a blue peg, a yellow peg and a red peg (c) 9th September 2014

Pegged to the currency

Today three of the pegs suddenly announced they were heading North of the border to show just how exactly similar they were. Although they decided not to invite the purple peg. Only a week ago, they were begging the purple peg not to make the same trip. The purple peg is travelling to Scotland on its own and heading right into the area which most wants the breakup of the UK. Cynical commentators say this is because it wants to get rid of Scotland so that England can become purple peg heaven. The English view this confusion with alarm and hope the contagion doesn’t spread. Watch this space for further educational nuggets.

Comfort causes cancer

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of a fattie (c) 16th June 2014

Life is like a box of chocolates ~ it doesn’t last as long for fatties

This is one of those subjects which people like to become seriously upset about, if you make jokes about it. I’m not talking about cancer, I’m talking about being a lazy fat mound of human flesh which can scarcely flop from bed to sofa and back again. Long-standing readers will know that back in the day when I was still a married man, I too grew a little overweight. My wife talked me into going to Weightwatchers. Weekly, I would listen to little lectures on how many calories were in certain foods. One day, the teacher suddenly asked, “Who on earth can give up chocolate?

I’d long since stopped listening properly, I was sitting at the back, reading twitter, when this rhetorical question came in. I put my hand up. 25 dangerously fat women looked horrified. “How on earth did you manage that?” asked the teacher, the only woman there who wasn’t horrendously large. “I identified chocolate, crisps, cheese, butter and beer as my risky foods so I cut them all out and started walking into town every day, which is a six mile round trip.” They all burst out laughing. The teacher quietened them by saying, “It is so much easier for men…” I was the only man in the room.

That Weightwatchers class might have been populated by extreme specimens of humanity but it was hardly atypical. Instead of taking responsibility for their personal consumption, they preferred a fictitious version of calorie counting, a weekly solidarity session and absolutely no talk of exercise whatsoever. When I suggested to one woman that she need not walk all the way into town but simply to the next bus stop, she replied, “WHY THE FUCK SHOULD I?!” Why indeed.

Whether you buy into my rather snappy post title or not, whether you believe the earth was made in seven days or not, whether you are large or small, it is pretty clear that we are walking creatures. Our bodies are designed to travel overland, lugging stuff and chatting. We were actually built for the mobile web! We’re also bettered by skipping some meals and not eating altogether for a day at a time. Dress this up as fasting, if it helps you overcome your culinary salivation. Whatever gets you through the day and night of being uncomfortable.

You don’t need a ten thousand word essay to get this point. Remember reading that sea swimming is good for your circulation because the cold water encourages capillary growth? It’s all part of the same message, the one that says if you want a squalid, mentally confused and physically disabled end to your existence, keep going as you are. Wash down those chips with more beer! Eat whatever you like and never do anything which a machine can do better. Before the final decline, you’ll have plenty of time to watch people with Olympian bodies disport themselves in the name of pornography or corporate sponsorship. How could you ever get bored?!

The Rule Of Three

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of a man asleep on a pile of books (c) 3rd September 2014

A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures in the doctor’s book.

When I started the Common Professional Examination in Law, a lecturer at Sussex University taught us to remember the rule of three. “The first time you read something, don’t worry if you don’t understand it. A lot of law isn’t easy to understand. This is a tough course. Don’t expect to understand everything the first time around,” he explained. He continued, “take a break and return to it later. If you don’t understand it the second time around, you’re probably shattered from studying so hard. Force a good night’s sleep down your throat and return to the text in the morning. Chances are you’ll get it. You’ve all got good degrees and are highly capable students. If you don’t understand it a third time, it isn’t your fault. It is the author’s fault. They didn’t understand what they were talking about.” It was great advice and served me well. There was a little bit more, “This rule doesn’t apply to Equity and Trusts, which no-one understands all of, as proved by the two main textbooks on the subject, neither of which make complete sense.

When I restarted cycling lots more earlier in the year, my gears didn’t really work. So I attempted to fix them. The attempt was unsuccessful. So I had another go at fixing them. This time, the fix seemed to work for a little while, but then the gears started to slip just like before and pretty soon I was back to only three working sprockets in the rear cassette. So I stripped the bicycle down, cleaned every last part in the gears and attempted a third fix. This did not work. Applying the Rule of Three I concluded, “Let’s get out of here, these gears are busted.” Reading up on the subject I discovered one remaining possible explanation ~ the sprockets themselves were too worn to hold the chain. One new cassette later and I am once more cycling with all my gears. Suddenly I understand what was wrong with almost every bicycle I have ever owned. Metal actually does wear away.

The Rule of Three says that if you fail to achieve an apparently straightforward task three times in a row, then the task itself is broken. Do not waste any more time on it! This Rule of Three is unrelated to the rhetorical three, The C++ three, 6th Century Vedic mathematics, the rule of aeronautical descent, capitalist analysis of mature markets or the Wiccan Law of Return. They all have notable exceptions.

My Rule of Three applies to every task, except those involving some form of self-help therapy. For example, you might feel the urge to rescue yourself from the sauce you rely on to the point of addiction. After three attempts to quit drinking you fail to conquer the urge to get drunk every night. This isn’t really an exception though, because self-reform isn’t a task. It’s a process. You’ll need the Rule of Seven for that.

How to withstand dentristy without anaesthesia

Scrapper Duncan's cartoon of a dentist

Dentists ~ see how they loom

I write these words sitting in a hard chair in the dentist’s waiting room. The nearest chair to the door. Just in case there’s a fire.

Not that I’m a coward. Far from it. I shall be refusing the anaesthetic. For a root filling. That’s how hardcore I am.

You may depend upon it, Sir,” opined Samuel Johnson, “knowing he is to be hung in the morning will concentrate a man’s mind wonderfully.

The condemned man waits, savouring his last few moments before the pain, the suffering and the inevitable rite of passage. We all have to die, we all have to lose teeth. The only true freedom, according to our most unhelpful philosophers, is the ability to choose when and life’s great unpleasantries occur.

I’d love to claim, genuinely, that I have always refused proper pain relief because I’m driven by the most profound philosophical understanding of life, the universe and everything. The truth is more prosaic. Something in my constitution says that I need double dosages of all drugs, for them to be effective. The after effects take longer to wear off. The pain induced by the dentist’s drill is temporary in nature. As soon as contact between the grinding bit and your tooth ceases, so does the pain. I can then enjoy the rest of the day, untroubled by numbness and comforted by the massive endorphin rush created by enduring the treatment.

The trick is to take yourself to another mental place for the brief duration of the work. I’ve had a dozen or so fillings and I can tell you, hand on heart, that the pain isn’t that bad. It’s a bit like when the school bully grabs your testicles and lifts you up the wall by them. You’re going to need to shift your focus to your place of safety for the period of the attack and the chances are that you will survive.

I wish I could say the same for a root filling. About twenty years ago a different dentist cleaned out and filled one of my bigger teeth’s roots. I felt everything. It was pain beyond belief. There was nowhere else for my mind to run to. Agony filled my consciousness. The only question was whether my young ego was stronger. It was and I walked away on air that day.

* * *

I write these words numbly at home, having probably chewed off half my face by now. The dentist refused to treat me free from modern medication. He said it was unethical. When I told him I’d already completed the same procedure without it, he demanded to know the name of the dentist. “Not for a root filling,” he said, “good God, no!

He did agree to minimise the dose so that I wouldn’t be too numb for too long. So I could feel some of the grief but not all of it. It’s every bit as much a part of the sensual world as bathing in milk, scoffing chocolate or blowing yourself stupid with drugs. Just without the pleasure.

How much did the Greens spend to get Caroline Lucas elected?

In 2010 Caroline Lucas became England’s first Green MP, winning the parliamentary seat for Brighton Pavilion. This chart shows the votes cast for and cash spent by each candidate. Officially.

Bar chart showing votes cast and official party spending in the Brighton Pavilion general election 2010

Votes cast and official party spending in the Brighton Pavilion general election 2010

Right-wingers in the Green Party have been driving left-wingers out over the last two years. Most departures are voluntary but there are one or two recent notable exceptions. Councillor Ben Duncan offended Caroline Lucas by tweeting that he explained to his son that soldiers were hired to kill. He has been expelled from the Green Group of councillors on Brighton & Hove City Council. The future of his PR job with London Green MEP Jean Lambert now hangs in the balance, for the same reason. Ben Duncan’s treatment has been viewed by many key activists in Brighton as a particularly ugly example of everything that is wrong with the party’s public relations.

Amongst them is Chris Barclay. He is a former party treasurer (as I am, too). Mr Barclay has been suspended from the party pending disciplinary proceedings which aim to expel him. His moral crime is publicly asking how much money Caroline Lucas spent on her election campaign in 2010. He alleges that almost every resource of the national party was thrown into the Brighton Pavilion election, though that expenditure was declared to the Electoral Commission as being spent elsewhere. That is an allegation of electoral fraud. If there is evidence to substantiate the allegation, we can expect to see Sussex Police taking an interest in the matter.

For months, Chris Barclay has been challenging the Green Party’s financial integrity, using internal channels. When Caroline Lucas publicly declared that she wanted Cllr Duncan disciplined, Mr Barclay made his concerns public. No-one in the party, officially or unofficially, has formally responded to Mr Barclay’s questions. The allegations, which are confirmed in Mr Barclay’s comment (the first on this post), essentially are:

  • 6 party officers (some on full-time salaries) worked almost exclusively for Caroline Lucas’ election “short-campaign” but only £1,903 was declared for staffing costs.
  • The staff employed in this way were the Campaign Director, Constituency Coordinator, Publications and Events Manager, Press Officer and Researcher, in addition to the local party’s own administrative worker, who was heavily involved.
  • Many of these party officials were paid around £30,000 pa pro rata. The Campaign Director’s salary was closer to £40,000 pa.
  • The maths of official hours put in is inevitably way in excess of £1,903.

In private conversations, Green activists fall into two camps about this issue. Either they clam up or they claim that, ‘we’re fighting the good fight, we’ve got to break the rules to get into the Westminster club’. It’s an argument that can only work with the converted.

Whether or not former Green Party members are willing to swear formal statements saying that such and such a person only ever worked for Caroline Lucas in 2010 remains to be seen. If they do, Caroline Lucas may face a much harder question and answer session than that dished up by the audience on Question Time.

The bigger question is how much does it cost to win an election to Westminster? The three established parties all have the advantage of massive economies of scale. The system is geared for their convenience. If having an incredibly popular candidate isn’t enough and half a million quid is needed too, the UK can hardly describe itself as a democracy.