Saturday, 3 October 2009

Are you real? I mean I'm not imagining you am I?

I was around in the early nineties, during that awful recession. I was made redundant three times in a row, everything was uncertain, nobody had jobs and I found myself scrabbling around for work, freelance writing, then getting a job only to lose it again and so on, until things levelled off a little and everything went back to normal.
It's weird, isn't it? Nowadays, whenever the word 'recession' is mentioned, I worry. I don't want to go through all that again. I hate it when I hear people wheel out the old familiar phrases about 'battening down the hatches', 'any port in a storm' and all that making do rubbish. I start to get angry and wonder who's to blame.
In the early nineties I remember hearing phrases like, 'we've reached the bottom' and it always conjured up images of those infra red cameras on the sea bed lurking around the wreck of the Titanic. It's bottomed out, we're scraping the bottom, all the imagery that suggests the only way is up. And then, of course, that was the mantra, 'the only way is up', Yazz and New Labour, images of Prescott and Mandelson and Blair jigging around self-consciously as 'New Labour' swept to power in 1997 and a new dawn beckoned. Cool Brittannia, Noel Gallagher in Number Ten, the whole thing.
For a while I remember thinking, nothing more to worry about, no more recession and so on and so forth, but of course, peace and tranquillity was never to be. The Twin Towers followed, then there was 'Dubya' to contend with, Blair being the poodle, the deceit that was the Gulf War and that whole Jack Straw syndrome. I don't know, but I don't trust Straw one bit and the whole Iraq thing cemented him in particular as a key villian of the piece. Even recently, he was a key figure in vetoing disclosure of the minutes of the meeting about Britain's involvement in the decision to invade Iraq. Where there's smoke, there's friendly fire.
But while Iraq trundles on and Afghanistan continues apace, the last thing I wanted was another recession. Rumours started, there were occasional comments in the press, but a lot of the time they were brushed off until suddenly we started hearing the media talk us into it. People started talking about Fanny May and Freddie Mac, two people I'd never ever heard of before, but apparently they had always been larger than life characters in the American financial markets. Odd, when I consider how, throughout the nineties I was reading the Economist and the FT and never once heard mention of these two crucial financial institutions that, apparently, the world economies rely upon.
Sure enough, though, they were responsible for the current major recession or 'downturn' that we now, as a world, are confronting. They lent loads of money to people who couldn't afford to pay it back and suddenly the world faced an economic meltdown largely based on the greed of the banking community.
I find myself wondering many things. When did the world turn from being a largely safe place to the uncertain place it is now? How come I used to work in a variety of jobs (all within the world of publishing) but never once did the commercial realities of life gatecrash my world. I used to go to work, do my job, come home and that was it; the fact that the advertising sales team was either incompetent and not up to the job or that 'market conditions' were forcing their hands never really bothered me. Market conditions never bothered me, they were resigned to the financial pages and were always slightly boring.
Now, of course, market forces are all that seem to matter. Everything is about cost and budgets. We're all in the hands of salesman, sadly, and they determine whether or not we have jobs or not.
But that aside, I now find myself more in tune with conspiracy theorists than ever before. Why? Because things just don't add up. Take the twin towers in NYC, why did they come down like a controlled demolition explosion? How come they then gave Dubya the perfect excuse to flex the military might of the USA in just the countries he wanted to invade? Why did we believe all that rubbish about 45-minute warnings and weapons of mass destruction that have since been proved to be complete and utter rubbish? Who the hell are Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac and why did they suddenly emerge as the key protagonists in the current global economic downturn when we'd never heard of them before?
I read Orwell's 1984 recently, it was one of those books that, of course, everybody must read at some stage in their lives and I hadn't gotten round to it until just a few years ago. What struck me about the book was the similarity between our current situation in Afghanistan and the conflicts that take place in the novel, they're just ongoing and all the people 'at home' hear are the news reports: yet another British soldier dies due to a roadside bomb, constant mentions of Helmand Province and at home everybody wondering why, what's the point? It's almost exactly like Orwell's masterpiece with a mythical enemy and media machine pumping us full of propaganda to keep us on-side, as it were.
It's the same with the recession and the so-called 'credit crunch'. We're all being told to 'batten down the hatches', there are programmes on the television and articles in newspapers showing us how to use our leftovers and be frugal, and the feeling is that 'they', whoever they are, are making deliberate parallels between now and war time rationing and trying to get us all thinking, perhaps, that we're a country at war – we are not, by the way; nobody is trying to invade us and haven't done for 70 years.
And then, of course, there's the great mythical villan that nobody can catch, that former employee of the USA, Osama Bin Laden. How come they can't catch him? They can catch virtually everybody else, they can put men on the moon, imprison dangerous criminals but they can't catch a man with a towel on his head whose picture is everywhere. Once again, perhaps it's all a scam, perhaps that's the deal with Osama, who knows? Where is he? Does he really exist? Is he really in cahoots with the ruling elite and is the whole 'culture of fear' and the so-called 'War on Terror' merely designed to keep us all in our place, like a kind of religion. Is it all another 'Opium for the People'? We occasionally hear about the status of the current terror alert – it's either low, moderate, substantial, severe or critical. Well, I don't know what it is right now, but what's the betting it's not low or moderate? Got to keep everybody on tenterhooks, eh?
Why is it that the recession is supposedly a big, full-on thing, much bigger than in the early nineties, that we should all be concerned about, but people are still going on foreign holidays, there are still ads on the TV for cars – a Golf for only £14,000? Fourteen grand is a lot of money in a cash-starved country with a recession of the size an enormity our respective Governments and media organisations are talking about. Who CAN afford a Golf for just £14,000 in these troubled economic times we're being told about?
And what about the crowded caf├ęs and restaurants in London. I pass them daily and inside there are loads of people eating and drinking, there are bottles of wine on the table, the food is ridiculously expensive for what it is but even now, as I sit here in an upbeat sandwich bar on Holborn Circus at 4pm looking around me there are people sipping tea, munching on almond croissants and the like. Why? Haven't they got jobs to go? They certainly don't look unemployed and if they are, why are they here when they should be out looking for a job?
And how come that everywhere I look there are houses being extended, drives being done – I know somebody who has just spent £12,000 on a new driveway – and why has everybody got a new car and expensive iPhones?
For some reason, nothing seems to ring true to me, although I'm sure I'll be told that it is all very true, very real. Unemployment lurches towards three million, the 'war' in Afghanistan continues apace, news reports of casualties in a far off land, just like in 1984.
And then, of course, there's the UK's horrible 'celeb' culture. How come we're all prepared to 'cut our cloth accordingly, 'batten down the hatches' and so on but are quite content to watch various celebs, like Jordan, on shopping sprees with, supposedly, not a care in the world? Why the hell do we accept it? Why the hell has there not been some kind of revolution or uprising, why has nobody appeared as a people's champion, why has there been little in the way of rioting in the streets, why is there no militant group (or groups) attacking the icons of wealth and big business?
No, everything simply carries on. Perhaps nothing has really happened at all. Perhaps it is just a lot of posturing, a lot of political manipulation, creating a climate of fear through terrorist alerts and 'economic downturns' that might be all wildly exagerrated.
How come, for example, that we occasionally hear of how a major terrorist ring has been busted by the security forces that could have been responsible for untold atrocities, but it's all kept at arm's length and we all sit back with our espressos and cappuccinos and just accept it as gospel?
Recessions encourage apathy and give businesses an excuse to do nothing. Terrorism, or the threat of it, gives the authorities the excuse to clamp down on the man in the street. Local councils abuse anti-terrorist laws purely because they can and we all sit back and let it happen.

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