The ‘Spirit’ of The Season

With Christmas now quickly falling into the cosy pit of our memories and our attention now focused on the promise of a new year of technology and film, I felt now was a good time to express my opinion on the festive season so as not to spoil any moods on Christmas day. You will not be too surprised to hear that I think Christmas is blown out of proportion whenever it comes around and I’m here to play the classic Scrooge you no doubt imagine me being when you think of me at this time of year.

I remember many fine Christmases, if that’s the word for it, in which I received glorious gifts that made my little eyes sparkle and my inner child run around screaming in my head. I remember getting a PlayStation One and quickly ushering Dad towards the TV to get him to set it up so I could play Rayman. I also remember getting a big transforming space shuttle that opened up to reveal it was a sci-fi space base on the moon and it came with astronauts and aliens, as well as a handful of space age vehicles to have them pretend to battle it out in space. Yes, my Christmases were humble occasions and our family never had much money to splash out on celebrating but my Dad did his best to make sure each Christmas made a lasting memory, despite the fact for a great deal of his life this holiday made him sick to the stomach with money worries. I understand the point of Christmas and I have enjoyed the holiday on many different occasions so I’m not exactly the man with the coal-black heart but as I’ve become older, wiser and a lot more jaded, I’ve started to see why my Dad thinks Christmas is highly overrated.

Yes, I know what you’re going to say – “Oh Jacob is going to tug at our heart strings with talk of capitalist nonsense and ludicrous spending that only fuels the corporate machine that is currently killing the common man  in a slow and sinister fashion”. If you did say that, fair play, that’s a pretty concise yet loaded statement about commercialisation. You all know this argument, that Christmas has become a joke, a poor chance every December 25th to pick a man’s pockets (Points if you get the reference) but though it is a common opinion held by my fellow cynics, I sometimes feel it is overlooked by many people who laugh merrily and come back at us with “Oh cheer up, it’s Christmas!”. I ask of you, what is Christmas? A Christian holiday to celebrate the birth of Jesus two months later than he was actually born so as to overshadow the Pagan winter festival? A reminder of why you’ll never want a job involved with health or hospitality because you’ll no doubt find yourself working on said day whilst your family misses you at the table? Well we are told that Christmas is a time of togetherness, a time to gather the family around a turkey with party hats upon every head and crackers in hand as we all prepare to laugh and love together. I would like to think that is true and that this spirit was present in your own celebrations but then what is Christmas without gifts right? The promise of fine food and thoughtful presents from relatives you barely ever see is what tickled your fancy because otherwise it’s not all that common nowadays that families naturally come together around the table just because. However, I’m sure you don’t feel this is true right? You enjoy Christmas purely because it is a time of love and merriment yes? Well, Christmas has been built up to you all your life and so who knows what you truly feel about the holiday, perhaps you do honestly enjoy the family togetherness, or perhaps you have been instructed to do so by Nanny Television since you were a child.

In my honest opinion, Christmas is not the problem but the hype surrounding it is. In case you do not understand what I mean, allow me to explain myself using Halloween as my comparison. I am sure you probably only start planning ahead for Halloween in September, August if you’re a real nutter for the clutter of plastic skeletons, but generally people don’t give the occasion much thought before October and I’ve never met someone who gets too excited over it year by year. Halloween, of course, is another western perversion of an ancient festival and is now an excuse to demand food from strangers whilst expressing your interest for characters from TV shows or whatever or your total lack of care for the occasion by just turning up on doorsteps wrapped in toilet paper and calling yourself a Mummy. I’m not a huge fan of Halloween, it’s an American thing that the British now want to emulate because Britain secretly wishes it was America, and even then it is just a massive plastic crap on the traditions of old. However, we all know that, nobody harps on about the spirit of the season or the Halloween spirit, we all know it is a tacky parade of costumes and candy but we take part because god damn it, we bought that Batman costume and we need an excuse to wear it! Halloween is naff, let’s face it, but we take part for shits, giggles and free food. However, whereas we are all aware that Halloween is not a momentous occasion and not really a celebration any more, Christmas has become very much the same thing and we don’t seem to want to notice.

Christmas is the only day of the year that the majority of us prepare for months in advance and as autumn rolls in, you get people asking if you’re ready for Christmas. Ready for Christmas is a funny expression, as if Christmas is some sort of challenge to face but then again it is really. The TV bombards you with flashing reminders that you must empty your wallet immediately and buy people ‘the perfect gift’ otherwise you’re a worthless human being and will forever be shunned as a miserable bastard like myself. Incidentally, you’re welcome to join my League of Miserable Bastards, we don’t do subscription gifts but there’s tea and biscuits and you’ll never hear any painstakingly bad music on in the community room. You can count on the media to wait for Halloween to come and go and then it will attack you mercilessly, smacking you in your eyeballs with pictures of turkeys and knitted jumpers and singing snowmen as it screams “BUY BUY BUY!” like a demonic parrot trying to wish you farewell (Read it aloud, makes more sense). I think Christmas is less fair on children than it can be to adults because as a child you watch adverts of amazing toys and treats that you want so badly and so you write your letter to an imaginary fat man and if you’re lucky and your parents are flash with the cash, you get the gift and all is well. If this is you, stop reading this, you will not be able to relate. If all is not well, you don’t get the gift you want, you get the next best thing or something you didn’t even ask for. Your faith in Santa is shaken and you look at your parents with sad eyes but they can’t tell you they couldn’t afford that giant princess castle play set because then they’d have to tell you that your gift wasn’t made by elves, it was made by small Chinese children who get paid in pennies to work until they die, and that is a reality which will stomp on your childish heart. You start to resent Santa and your parents for letting you down, even if you were such a good boy or girl (which you were blackmailed into by your parents, who threatened you with socks full of coal) Christmas can spoil a child and make them selfish, no doubt, but even if they aren’t disappointed by what they received, the holiday itself falls short and allow me to explain using my own experiences as a child and some retrospective thinking.

Ok, so as a child Christmas consisted of the following routine: up at the crack of dawn to look in my stocking to see various small gifts that would keep me occupied for a few hours until my Dad and my Stepmother got up out of bed, as Dad gets up we all scurry downstairs to the sacks full of big gifts and then unwrap them with bright eyes to then enjoy them for a few hours until dinner time. Our Stepmother always made such massive banquets at Christmas and so cheaply too but we didn’t even know as we dined like kings and then after a family dessert, we’d maybe watch some films Dad had bought for us or just run back upstairs to continue playing until we got tired and went to bed. Boxing day rolls in and… uh… nothing special happens. You have your gifts, you keep playing but because you’re a child, your fancy toys end up boring and broken by the time January arrives. Sure, maybe I was ungrateful, but I’m a white child of the western world, they’re good at that. However, I think Christmas is just built up to too much for the kids – all this waiting and waiting and being good, not kicking the cat or putting gum in hair to then have ONE DAY of puddings and presents before it’s done. Christmas came, Christmas went. You might get to stay up late come New Year’s but then that’s it. Hanukkah has the right idea and sounds much more fair on children, a more constant stream of little gifts day by day to make you excited for each day coming rather than this promise of a bucket-load of presents for one day. Even worse, after all of this you eventually come to realise that Santa Claus is a lie made up to get you to behave in a more desirable fashion and so you start to challenge your parents a lot more but then this is what Terry Pratchett said in The Hogfather, that characters such as Santa are the lies we must believe in as children so that we can believe in bigger lies as adults such as justice and mercy. I know that a darker part of your soul is aware of the reality that this is all a cheap façade we’ve been buying into since we were kids and now you want to keep smiling because you don’t want to admit that darkness is there, you want to keep grinning and gift-giving and gift-receiving, year after year, until you’re the one telling these lies to other people and the cycle continues like taking a steaming great shit into a washing machine and then turning it on to watch it swirl.

December 25th should not be highlighted as the time to remember a sacred baby or the time to spend your money on gifts, or even the time to think of family. At the risk of sounding as cheesy as Christmas, you should aim to show your love for those who care about as often as possible without needing some special occasion to encourage you to be a decent human being. If the spirit of giving and caring truly exists inside you, keep it alive all year round. I could be bitter, I could be right. I mean, my brothers didn’t get me gifts despite me getting gifts for them but let’s gloss over that hmm? I hope what I’ve said today is not simply ignored as the ravings of a cold-hearted man, who is as solitary as an oyster and annoyed that Christmas this year for him consisted of being told he’s off JSA, a pudding he got ready for the occasion being sniffed at and binned and his spirit of giving and caring receiving little in reciprocation. Bah, humbug!

Catching Flies

Well this has been a long time coming but at last the Old Man returns. I know what you’re thinking, it is either “Who?” or “Where have you been?” to which I respond thusly: Jacob Wolfe, the left-winged lunatic with a bone to pick with every aspect of the modern world from music and film to politics and economy. I have been gone for a long time and I apologise for that but in that time I’ve dealt with several demons. I broke up with my long term partner after having a mental breakdown and then failed my exams, landing myself squarely in a rut. I had a job, briefly, and was on JSA but I’ve now been told I’m not allowed that anymore because I called in sick on two occasions and that’s just not on. I am running the house and home on behalf of my father whilst my stepmother is away, meaning that as well as trying to find paid work, I’m doing housework simply because somebody has to. As I write this, I’m currently at odds and ends with a lapse in my self-esteem and motivation but I’m still trying and I’m improving very slowly in spite of medical and emotional issues trying to pin me down. As far as life goes, if people describe their life as shit then mine has been the plumbing system of an Indian restaurant because all of that only adds up to most of my troubles.

Moving swiftly on, I want to get back into this and get my writing back in order. TDWC is back under the knife to be picked apart and improved upon to make it less of a “two guys dicking around and saving the day” deal and more true to the intended description of an action-packed tongue-in cheek play on the genre of two or more attractive lead characters fighting non-human forces whilst dashing around being sexy and charming (Doctor Who, Supernatural, Torchwood and such). I hope to mix together a strong story line and genuine characters for those looking for more shows in the same vein as Supernatural to gorge on but with a playful near-parody twist to it to poke fun at this notion that all heroes are at the centre of the universe they reside in and are endlessly endearing to us as they make the hero business into a catwalk for bow-ties, tight skirts and trench coats. I shan’t give away too much at this point but I hope that it will live up to the thoughts I have in mind.

So I imagine you want to know what shall be the subject of my return to ranting don’t you? The title doesn’t give you much to go on, other than perhaps a reference to fishing or bug-catching but I was in fact referring to the phrase ‘You will catch more flies with honey than with vinegar’. Positive reinforcement ladies and gentlemen, is the process of teaching someone to do something you want them to do by rewarding them for it, as opposed to punishing them when they do not. First of all, this rant will mostly be for the British audience (provided they audience abroad even exists anymore, which I very much doubt but at one time I was well known in at least three continents so…) but Americans may also find this speaks to them though do please note I’ll be largely referring to Britain in this rant. Now as mentioned earlier, I’ve been told I’m a naughty lazy child by the folks at the job centre and that they’re stopping my pocket money because I missed a careers day event due to illness. I waddled out of the house to get my book signed to officially declare I hadn’t spent my time scratching my balls all day and that my JSA payments weren’t being spent on ivory ball scratchers but I felt sick and quickly got home to bed afterward, forgetting the career day event that was to take place after my meeting in my dreary hypersensitive state of stomach pains and depression. Granted, I could have just sat there and tried to soak in the information but when your head is full of amplified background noises and a sad inner monologue about the pointless nature of your existence, you don’t do much information soaking and so I went to bed. However, this led to me being told I’m no longer allowed the money and that should my appeal fall through, I’m not allowed to claim JSA anymore and this got me thinking about the sad yet true system that the British Government uses to run the country, the power of punishment to create dependency. I shall now explain my point.

I failed to attend a meeting out of sickness and this was reported to the decision maker who made the decision that I was clearly not job-seeking and thus don’t deserve the payment. I re-read the rules afterwards and noticed that there are a lot of ways to get some ass who’s never even met you to tell you you’re a lazy sponge. In essence, if you do not attend every single meeting you are directed to (without being able to say “Oh no, I can’t make that” because then the response is “Oh well oh no then, you can’t get paid”) and apply for seven jobs a week, you’re told via a slip of paper to go fuck yourself. I thought that this seemed fair enough at first but the job market is slim pickings for people of my age gap and in the area in which I live, most people want qualified nurses and teachers (You know, those two professions that the government fucked in the ass until most of them started moving abroad about two years ago?). The jobs that are available to job seekers require you to have paid for specialised training years before you became jobless, including apparently needing to qualify for a Door Security Badge to stand outside a building with a clipboard. I’m sorry, but how hard is it to teach somebody to open the door for guys on the list and otherwise leave it closed?

I’m straying from my point though and that is that our current system is one based around punishment, around bullying those who are vulnerable for not being untouchable like the upper middle class we all aspire for. The lower class is demonised as a legion of unintelligent money-swiping mole men that feed on scraps but let me put forward this idea – if the vast majority of people living under your control are criminals and scroungers then that is a reflection of your ability as a ruler, not the people. You want less people to ask you for hand outs? Up the national minimum wage to keep pace with the rising costs of daily life or lower those said costs for people earning below a certain amount. You have the Bedroom Tax as well, a penalty incurred by living in a household that has more bedrooms available than people living within the household (i.e. a lone old woman living in a three bedroom house would be expected to pay extra for the two unused bedrooms, even if she used those rooms as say a study and a storage room). I agree, we have a problem with housing in this country and some people do live in houses that are much too big for them whilst families of seven or such are crammed into flats until limbs stick out the windows but this scheme doesn’t help the situation at all because the kind of people affected are the following:

– Old couples that live alone together because the kids moved out
– Disabled people who convert a room downstairs into a bedroom because they cannot face going upstairs and so the unused bedroom upstairs is still costing them due to this tax
– People who would downsize but can’t afford it or don’t know how

I mean, in all fairness, are MPs really allowed to point fingers in having stuff they don’t need at the cost of the people? At least these big houses are for people, not ducks. However, if you insist on bullying people for having houses that are too big for them then maybe implement a government relocation scheme to help the disabled and the elderly move house to something more suitable, offer to pay for the cost of moving and help them to sell their old house? You’d be selling the new houses you insist on building everywhere, regaining the big empty houses and less people would be paying a pointless tax! For the record, speaking of ridiculously large houses, does the Queen pay bedroom tax? Like, I’m sure Buckingham Palace could serve a lot of other useful purposes than the gilded cage for a bunch of old people? Sadly, the British government is too in love with using fear to control the nation, the fear of taking away their crutch and beating them with it.

You might interject that the benefits the people are granted are generous right? I mean, on JSA, if you’ve been claiming for six months, your employer gets a cash gift of almost £3000 for taking you in so that’s a big incentive for them to hire you and get you off benefits right? Well sure, he might HIRE you, but once he gets that payment you’re off again and it is entirely legal and that cash gift is the government’s way of telling you to politely fuck off. Similarly, you can get a bonus in your benefits if you report a benefit thief but this isn’t swapping the stick for a carrot, this is you telling the guy with the stick to bully someone else for a bit because they’re a worse kind of vermin than you are and do you get a carrot? No, not really, just five minutes of peace from your beatings. Depression is rife in Britain and I get so angry at people of the middle class judging me. Teachers and doctors tell me that I have no reason to be so depressed living in a town as lovely as Shrewsbury. Yeah, Shrewsbury is lovely, assuming you can afford theatre tickets and the booking fee for a river cruise because otherwise your night life in Shrewsbury is a variety of shit-pen fast food stores and more pubs than you could ever possibly hope to crawl around in a week. Fun times in Shrewsbury require you to be either rich or drunk, and that is the social life of Britain, one of spending money you don’t have to do things you wouldn’t enjoy doing sober to escape the reality that Britain is a slowly dying cripple at the top of the globe.

You know in Sweden you get paid by the government for being eco-friendly right? Literally, you receive cash gifts for recycling on a regular basis. In Britain, if you don’t recycle enough, you could face a fine and if you organise your recycling boxes incorrectly, your local bin men throw a fucking tantrum and send you passive aggressive notes in the post. I’m sorry, we couldn’t collect your recycling because you put paper in the glass box. I’m sorry, we couldn’t empty your garden waste bin because we found that someone had put an old packet of crisps in there by mistake. I’m sorry, you didn’t leave any milk and cookies with your wheelie bin so we’re not talking to you anymore! I heard that once upon a time, the bin men just came and collected your bin from the garden and did the rest themselves, now if they find a tin amongst glass jars, they shit themselves and scatter like pigeons. In a country that is ruled by punishing people, people break down and they turn to desperate and dishonest measures, much in the same way that a child who is given no positive reinforcement in development turns out to be a horribly dysfunctional liar. You get smacked in the face for speaking too much, not enough, telling lies, telling the truth, eating too much, eating too little so eventually you just say fuck it, I’ll do whatever because I already know I’m going to get hell for it and this is the psyche of rioters and such. The people steal and cheat their governments because they know they’ve been judged as thieves and liars but they also know they are cheated and stolen from so they just claw for what they can get.

I hope you’re still reading on because I’ve got more to say just yet. I was talking with my Dad recently about Milgram and his study of obedience, you know the one? Basically, Milgram managed to convince a bunch of random men to electrocute an old man into having a heart-attack (At least, so they thought) simply because he was a figure of authority to these men and so they complied. The psychology to this is what led the Nazis to commit such unspeakable crimes, it was simply the “just following orders” justification that allows us to be malevolent beings if instructed to by someone we respect as our superior. Of course, this study was conducted during the McCarthy era so it was a time of doing as you’re told, when you’re told so I wonder if this still rings true in modern society, where we are subjected to suffering at the hands of authority and many of us are against big organisations picking on us. The government, the police, the banks – we trusted them once upon a time but we’re starting to see them more as bullies than as guardians so perhaps we would be less inclined to do as we’re told. I can imagine Milgram encountering chavs only to have them tell him to do various unseemly things to himself. I’m of two minds because on the one hand I think that we’re less inclined to obey because we know now that our superiors are as human as we are, they’re not the crème de la crème of society but simply those of power and influence. However, maybe we are more obedient because we lack the will to fight, the will to stand up and tell these bastards that the people should be represented by those that once stood alongside them, not privately educated tosspots that have less in common with the average bloke than a tea towel does with a tiger. The people that fight and resist, speaking of anarchy and freedom, are labelled as crazed terrorists and are quickly swept under the rug and we feel that if we try to speak out, we’ll be called crazy too. In truth, what divides us from sheep is that we have the internet, and shaving us naked will not eventually lead to a nice jumper in time for Christmas.