Dont buy the Sun.

Dont buy the Sun.
Hillsborough Justice campaign - Remember the 96.

Saturday, 1 December 2007


Nel and I recently went shopping. Neither of us, despite being urban creatures (although not for ever if my Bill-scaring farmhouse purchase plan ever materializes), have ever particularly enjoyed shopping, but sometimes a new pair of loafers are needed for the winter party circuit, so we hauled our (collective) ass down to the town center. "Let's just have some fun" we advised each other, "Make it an enjoyable experience, after all, we never do this. Maybe get a bite to eat, a leisurely stroll, and take in some down-town atmosphere". After a short bus journey, it looked as if the plan was going to go very smoothly. 'Omelette' is a diner hidden among Hull's back streets, but I realized very quickly that the reason I felt so at home was that it was entirely reminiscent of typical Canadian breakfast restaurant like Smitty's - waitress service, coffee on tap and not a latte or frappucino anywhere in sight, just mugs of bland, brown liquid.

After Omelette, we began our relaxed wanderings. I suggested to the boffin that we tale a quick peek in a bicycle store "just down the road", and began to lead her the two or three blocks that I remembered towards the store. After about five blocks of being buffeted and bumped in the crowds, I could see the store sign in the distance. "It's just a bit further" I tell Nel. Uncharacteristically, Nel is a good sport and forces out, through gritted teeth "Ok" . Ten minutes into our expedition and we are already "brave-facing" it. At last though, we're in but the store is a disappointment - expensive, and like so many specialists sports stores, the staff are elitist and snobby. They carry an attitude which says "If you're not wearing the latest gear, I do'nt want to be seen helping you".

Back on the trail of whatever it is we have come out to buy, and two trends are observed. The first is the continuing trend to label stores and bars with snappy, 'witty', one word names. 'Cheese' for example is a bar, 'Air' is a hairdressers etc etc. This inspires me, because I've been seeking a name for my future scenery building business for quite a while. A decision is made and in my mind, my new business is named - Sets. I can see the future, Mazzer at a social function proudly describing how my business is Sets, and I specialize in custom Sets, the wierder the better.

Hull Landscapes

On reflection, I realize that this trend is quite a few years old, indeed a clothes shop in Leicester was called 'Cliche'. We could never work out if this was intended irony or not, but now it is apparent that 'Cliche' was just ahead of the game. I resolve that to be ahead of the next trend I should call my future business "West Hull Scenery Emporium, manufacturers of Fine Scenery, Cat Trees, Guitar Stands and Solar Panels. Est 200?. Proprietor Martin John Steven Francis Mac Fhiodhbhuidhe-Nygson-L'Arge". The future is definitely big names.

We finish our shopping in St Stephens Shopping Centre, Hull. Inevitably, this disgusting building, 'Hull's new High Street' has it's own website: In reality, by the time we reach St Stephen's we're both knackered and want to go home, but we do some purchases before retreating. I've included some photographs of St Stephen's in the album. Personally I hate everything about it - especially the great big crushed toilet roll-holder which has been inserted right down the centre of the mall. Starbucks currently occupies this enormous architectural mistake. Everything is wrong with this structure - the materials are plywood which will yellow and fade with exposure to the sun in a few years, it is a massive visual obstacle in a space which otherwise would be quite cathedral-like, and from the interior, it is no refuge as a cafe should be, it is just like being in a fishbowl.

A final observation about development is that seeing the pasty-faced youth wandering round St Stephen's talking endlessly on their cellphones made me realize, especially given England's recent performance in the sport it invented, that in Hull the first thing that enters the minds of planners when thinking about improving their city is to build shopping developments where the populace can increase their debt load or pubs and restaurants where we can drink ourself stupid. There has not been a new park created in this city since about 1905.

The second trend we noticed on our expedition is the extent to which 'going green' has become a commodity. Of course, it was inevitable that this would happen, and I have seen the trend before, but I had'nt noticed how, like a bad case of the flu, this 'new' concept has infiltrated everything. Sir Richard Branson, the man behind Virgin Records (and every other Virgin), whom I had always thought was nearly OK, has recently legitimized this stupidity in the UK, coining the phrase "Gaia Capitalism" and speaking enthusiastically about the business opportunities that have now been created as a result of humanity's plundering of the planet.

Gaia Capitalism tells us that the planet is nearly in a "bit of trouble and might warm up a bit", which sounds good, and mostly is(""Whoppee, more sunbathing!" as one advertiser put it), but in some cases the warming might cause a "bit of flooding here and there", so we (ie YOU the public) need to do something ("we" the business, do'nt need to do anything). Fortunately, because "nearly" is sometime in the future, there's no need to panic, all we (the consumer) needs to do is "our [YOUR] bit", drawing on help and advice from the government and business, the Custodians of the Planet. The solution is to buy more stuff, in fact it is our duty to shop our way out of this "little bit of trouble" by purchasing "eco-friendly products, the more, the better.

Eco-friendly products include those mercury-filled low energy lightbulbs or Unilever washing up liquids (Persil etc),that have been repackaged with a green plastic label that proudly states "Degradable", "green" cars, and completely unnecessary cadmium filled garden lights that are "green" because they are solar powered. The slogan "Reduce, Re-Use, Recycle" is the last concept we should hold as a motto. Allied to this is the notion that the other last thing we need to do is panic, change our lifestyle and stop buying stuff. In fact, the more eco-friendly products we buy, the more we save the Planet. The logic of the Marketing Department tell us that a container ship loaded down with Marks and Spencers Fair Trade organic coffee does much less damage to any whales it collides with in the Bay Of St Lawrence, and dumps less oil than if the same ship was loaded with Nescafe. So keep on shopping people, the Planet depends on it.

The extent of all this re-labelling is extraordinary. In the UK, there are Insurance Companies that advertise their policies as "Green" Insurance Policies, and Formula One proudly declares itself to be "Carbon Neutral". Naturally, the public are'nt stupid. In the UK there are still a significant number of people who are very skeptical that Climate Change even exists, but whether a person is a tree-hugger or a skeptic, the cynicism of the British public is understandable - the way the debate is presented here makes it obvious that they are either being sold something of debatable value or a vote. All the responsibility for effective action,(if a person believes action is needed - which the majority of British people do'nt), is therefore cast upon the ordinary person This is a responsibility that is hard for Mr and Mrs Noseworthy of 22 Acacia Gardens, (who want to get the bus everywhere), to take seriously when their Government has just announced another expansion to the world's busiest airport and another massive motorway improvement project.

Given that a harmless day's shopping for the Boffin and I usually results in these kind of maudlin reflections, it is probably understandable that we do'nt do it more often. All we were looking for was a pair of brown loafers. Next time we need recreation, we'll probably go for a long walk in the countryside. Or go the pub and get slaughtered.


Grasshopper said...

I just wrote a response that I had to delete because it was bringing me down just writing it. The "green" economy?? Sigh.

MJN said...

Yeah, I have tried really hard to stay away from subjects like the Green economy, loads of people write about them much better, and it's always in the news, and I guess that we all pretty much know what eachother thinks anyway, and it can be very depressing.
But there is an upside to the Climate Change debate that I do not think is being highlighted enough.
I'll be brief as I can . My reading of anthropolgy/history/archaeology has really highlighted something that I'd never considered before, namely that practically all human civilizations have collapsed, and environmental degradation, mostly caused by humans, but sometimes not, has usually been a significant factor in these collapses.

Our civilization is also degrading the environment significantly. The distinguishing factor in our current civilization however, is that for the first time that I have been able to identify causes and propose solutions, we have prior knowledge of what we're doing, global consensus on what we are doing and global consensus, as well as the organisational capability to effect a change in our civilization before we become the modern equivalents of the Easter Islanders, chopping the last tree down for firewoood then realizing we have'nt any boats left.

Slow as the lurch towards action on the environment has been, there is a movement toward action and that does, I believe, actually represent a significant step forward for humanity. The biggest contributing factor towards this movemnet is scientific research - the Greenland Vikings, Inca and Easter Islanders did not have science at the level and global extent that we do.

That, for me, is the upside. \The possibility exists that we will take action,as a species (admittedly belatedly, but not as belatedly as "after") and thereafter act as a civilization in a way that builds on the lessons we have learnt throughout the Industrial revolution, lessons about resource usage, population control, pollution and economic structure.

Imagine a female Democrat in the Whitehouse, Bali resulting in some real agreements, and some deals coming off, which were unthinkable a few years ago. It may take some time, but I really do think it is possible. The future might be green after all - despite the best efforts of the GAia capitalists.