This morning at Pritchard Towers, I’d just sat down to breakfast in the smaller dining-room, and Jeeves was just bringing the starter course of three scrambled Ostrich eggs when there was a thunderous knock at the tradesman’s entrance, to which Jeeves noticeably grimaced…

OK – I was half way through a chicken mayonnaise sandwich (Mayo expires today, waste not, want not) when there was a hammering at the front door.  I spotted a red van outside so I thought that it was a postal delivery.  On opening the door I was confronted by one of the most fearsome sights that a householder can behold – a doorstep salesman waving leaflets and asking “Are you the householder?”  For the sake of this blog post I’ll refer to him as Gary.

I toyed with the idea of answering ‘No, I’m Jeeves the butler’ but foolishly answered ‘Yes’.  Gary gestured heavenward, but rather than saying ‘Are you saved by the love of Jesus Christ?’ he said Gutters – have you thought of having them replaced?”

“Not really. I know they need it but can’t afford it. Thanks.”

“Well, we do uPVC,.”

“Yes, I understand what you’re saying but we can’t afford it.”

“But your neighbours have gutters like we sell.”

“We don’t have the money. We can’t afford it.”

“What if we could bring the price down.”

“We don’t have the money. Doesn’t matter how cheap your stuff is. We don’t have any spare money right now. It’s all spoken for. We don’t have the  money. OK?”

At this point I could see that my words had sunk in and he looked a little crestfallen.

“So, not interested?”

“That’s right, not interested.”

And he went on his way, back to his little red van.

I was enormously pleased at this point. I was about to consider whether attempting to explain using progressive dance might work.  Alternatively, I could have just grabbed a Bible and my cassock and yelled ‘Brother, are YOU saved by the blood of your saviour, Jesus Christ? Let me pray with you, bother! Fall to your knees in supplication before our Lord…’  But I would be worried that he might genuinely be seeking spiritual enlightenment…

I assume he drives around the streets of Sheffield doing ‘drive by assessments’ of gutters. Ours are really easy to asses. They’re about 40 years old with plants in some parts.  If there is such a thing as a ‘Gutter Spotters Guide’ then we’re in the section of ‘Antique and decaying’.

Our gutters lover the front door when there is a shower; when there is heavy rain it’s a veritable waterfall. There are whole civilizations of waterborne life that depend upon our leaky gutters for their existence. I’m not sure that I want ecocide on my conscience.

On a serious note, I would have hoped that saying ‘I’ve no money to pay you’ would have rung alarm bells in even the most inept salesman’s mind.  Maybe over the years ‘I can’t afford it’ was a genuinely easy excuse to attempt to force the price down.  But I think that the world is very different today; if there is no spare money, and no ACCESS to spare money, ‘I can’t afford it’ is simply a statement of fact – there is no way in which I could pay for your goods and services even if I wanted them.

I know that the gutters need attention, along with drive ways and paths; but right now there is no money.  Maybe I should set up a crowdfunding account….


It’s a dangerous world….

The Advertising Standards Authority managed to drag a wry smile out of me this morning as I read the news that they’d banned an advert for Heinz Baked Beans because it might encourage children to hurt themselves.

The story is here : and the advert is based around playing the rhythm of a song on full and empty bean tins. Now, apart from the risk of such tympanic efforts entering in to the nation’s psyche like the ‘Heinz Beanz Song’ from my childhood:

“A million housewives every day,

Pick up a tin of beans and say

Beanz meanz Heinz”

I was hard pressed to think what harm could come to kids from playing the Heinz Bongoes. OK, particularly hard pressed parents might throw the odd tin at their offspring to get them to stop, but that was it…but then it was made clear that the risks to kids were from possibly cutting their fingers on the open ends of a tin.

Now, at first glance I thought – fair enough.  Then I started thinking,

“No. Not fair enough. The world is a tough place. Kids need to learn that occasionally you’ll get cut, scratched, grazed, burned and bruised when you play and learn.  Don’t take dumb risks, but don’t live in a cotton wool world where folks try and stop everything happening to you.”

Because if you try and control the small stuff that gives a painful reminder of the dangers of the world, when the big, uncontrollable, nasty shit comes along out of nowhere on a Saturday afternoon the kids have no experience of what it’s like to get whacked. More importantly, they have no way to judge risk; a world in which you never get exposed to mild risk is not a healthy world.

There’s a lovely line from the god-like alien ‘Q’ in Star Trek: The Next Generation, where he is explaining something about the universe to Captain Picard who’s just had a VERY narrow squeak:

If you can’t take a little bloody nose, maybe you ought to go back home and crawl under your bed. It’s not safe out here. It’s wondrous, with treasures to satiate desires both subtle and gross; but it’s not for the timid.

He’s right. A world perfectly safe and with no risk couldn’t have generated the human race; and certainly won’t generate a healthy generation of children.  There’s a big difference between being safe and being timid; between taking stupid risks and entering for this year’s Darwin Awards and engaging in an activity that has a small amount of risk as a by-product

There was an interesting study done about the ‘range’ of children today and over the last 100 years – the maximum distance that a child was from home during their free time and play.  It was quite un-scientific and probably non-representative but suggested that a radius of 10 or more miles was not uncommon a hundred years ago; my personal radius in the 1960s/70s was down to about 5 miles or so; today in many cases it’s less than a mile, and little outside.

Activities are often now virtual; the biggest risk of harm is likely to be a pulled thumb muscle or repetitive strain injury.

So, here’s the start of a helpful guide for children of all ages to be used when adverts don’t contain the necessary health and safety small print.

  1. Sharp stuff can cut you. Really sharp stuff can cut deeply. So can paper. Watch those books.
  2. Hot things burn you.
  3. Anything electrical can potentially hurt you badly. Don’t screw around with anything bigger than a 9 volt PP3.
  4. Don’t eat anything that isn’t a recognised food.
  5. Jumping from heights has a risk of twisted ankles.

The list can go on and on….but you get the picture. It is a potentially risky world out there and play is one of the ways in which we get our abilities to function in the world honed to a fine point.

We never really finish learning; as Kipling said in ‘The God of the copy-book headings‘ “And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;”

May your day be full of small, manageable risks and may your bumps and bruises be safe ones.

WARNING – Nothing in this blog post should be taken as advocating risky activities. All safety guidelines should be read as humorous asides. (OK…legal guys…is that OK?)


The knees…a Friday afternoon design….

When I started coding, over 30 years ago, the backup and restore code in one version of Microsoft DOS was quite grim.  In particular, it would allow you to backup your massive 10Mb hard disc (yes, 10 MEGAbyte) onto multiple floppies….and then fail when you tried to restore somewhere around disc 12 or 13.  After a while you got used to splitting your backups in to sets so that you never got near the magic failure number….

We used to joke that the code had either been written or designed on a Friday afternoon, when the software guys in Seattle were more worried about the weekend ahead than doing a good job.  I know this is grossly unfair; at the time I was working in a culture that had Friday lunchtime as the ‘go to the pub for a few beers and be chill when you got back to the office’ day, so I was probably projecting!

As the years have gone by I’ve still used the phrase ‘a Friday afternoon design’ as an indication that something seemed a bit botched or half-arsed.  And today I offer what is for me one of the major Friday afternoon jobs I’ve encountered, committed by evolution itself.  The human knee.  (Yes, as a Christian I am allowed to believe in evolution – I think that God keeps things simple where He can and evolution is a great way – usually – of getting an optimal solution for biological problems).

I have heard it said that the problems that human beings encounter with our lower backs and our knees are caused by 3 issues:

  1. The knee is prone to injury – partially due to (3)
  2. We in the west tend towards porky and so put excess weight on back and knees.
  3. We’re probably a million years or so early in wandering around on our hind legs, and so they’re not quite ready for it yet.

Well, there’s nothing I can do about (3) and I definitely suffer from (1) and (2). For the last 15 years – courtesy of an injury acquired playing rugby in my teens – my knees have been rather dodgy. They don’t bend as they should, they make noises that they shouldn’t, and they ache like buggery when it’s too damp, too cold, too hot – my knees are ‘Goldilocks Knees’ – they need everything to be ‘just right’.

I’ve had physiotherapy, and drugs, and these days get a lot of relief from exercise (within reason) and something I call my Turmeric Gunk which has been a God-send.  Despite appearances, you do eat this stuff, rather than smear it all over the afflicting joint….

My knees have provided comic-relief to numerous children; the clunking noise when I bend my knee has often been greeted with cries of ‘Do it again, Uncle Joe’….when the children concerned start getting clunky joints themselves, I’ll propel myself to them in my wheelchair and wheeze ‘Do it again!’ back!

They’ve also provided me with excuses as to why I can’t play horsey any more – the knees just won’t forgive me!

I was therefore amused and gratified at the latest US advertising campaign for Amazon.  It features a priest and an imman meeting up and working out the perfect gift for each other….

This has particular resonance for me; earlier on this year I was on placement as part of my Reader training at a ‘High Anglican’ church where there’s a lot of kneeling and genuflecting involved. If you’ve never genuflected, trust me – it’s hard going with dodgy knees – there’s always that thought that you might not actually manage to straighten up again!

I spent a few mornings with some serious strapping on my knees!

Perhaps I need to follow the advice from this advert and get some knee supports.  And whilst I’m down there praying, maybe I’ll just add a little comment to God asking whether evolution couldn’t have been directed a little to give us better knees…..


I think I’m officially decrepit…

The other evening I dropped in to the local Asda on the way home from the office in order to purchase the stuff that I was advised at my ‘Well Man’ appointment this morning to avoid; bread, danish pastries, sausage rolls…the stuff that makes life life and not existence…

Anyway, there is a problem with the way in which shelves in the fridge are filled up; they’re so tightly stuffed that it’s almost impossible to get things out. Whether this is a genuine problem with the shelving process or whether it’s a further symptom of my inability to cope with the modern world, I have no idea, but for whatever reason I decided that I could extract a a pack of Enchiladas one handed.

I realised that this was an error of judgment on my part when I managed to extract the Mexican fast food goodness…and break the front of the shelf off as well. I decided that two hands would be required to put the store back together before I was ejected for vandalism, and as I was putting my basket down to wrestle the 4 foot shelf facing back in to position, a young woman took the end of the shelf fitting that I wasn’t holding and started to help me put it back on the shelf.

Between us we managed to get the shelf re-assembled, with a little banter and chat. I thanked her profusely and she said ‘Well, it looked like you needed some help with it….’

There you have it; I’m 54 years old, a geek, and being labelled as unable to re-assemble a plastic supermarket shelf by a woman half my age.  At least she didn’t add ‘Things get more difficult as you get older, don’t they….’  I think I’m on the down hill slope to dusty death.

I encountered her a couple more times whilst I shopped, and whilst we acknowledged each other she didn’t need to check that I was able to manage the basket…

I have since decided to rescue my dented self-image by thinking that she may have been flirting with me. However, the sensible part of my brain suggests that that WOULD be the sign that I was losing it, and having delusions….

Now where’s my Werther’s Originals…

4 Lions – when does bad taste become dark humour?

Back in January 2009, there was a little article in The Guardian referring to thefunding of a film by Chris Morris by FilmFour, the film production arm of Channel 4.   The film, “4 Lions”, has now been produced and released to mixed reviews, some of which will have undeniably been influenced by the subject matter of the film – a comedy about Islamic extremist suicide bombers planning a bomb attack on the London Marathon.

The film was described as  showing the “the Dad’s Army side to terrorism”, as four incompetent jihadists plan an attack.  For some reason the description of the film reminded me of the description of the spoof musical ‘Springtime for Hitler’ as ‘ A Gay Romp WithEva and Adolf at Berchtesgaden’ in the movie ‘The Producers’.  Interestingly enough, given the calls from relations of people involved in the 2005 bombings for the film to be not distributed or screened, ‘The producers’ had some difficulties at the start of it’s life with problems with getting it made or shown.  Eventually it was released as an ‘art house’ film and then got big ‘word of mouth’ takeup.

Now, I love ‘the Producers’, but I’m rather less enamoured with Morris’s film, and it set me thinking about what makes some ‘bad taste’ films acceptable and others unacceptable.

I guess the first thing is the timing.  When ‘The Producers’ was made in 1968, WW2 was 23 years in the past; whilst easily within living memory, it wasn’t raw.  Less than 5 years have elapsed between the July 2005 London bombings and the release of this film.  Probably too close for comfort – and releasing the film around the time of the 2010 London Marathon was probably a brilliant wheeze  from a marketing point of view but a little ‘naff’ for those taking part in the Marathon or remembering those killed in 2005.

Then there’s the closeness to real life.  Let’s stick with ‘The Producers’ as our control here.  They made one of the two most evil men of the 20thCentury look like a buffoon, and had a series of song and dance routines that were so far over the top – and intended to be so – that there was no real link to reality.  “4 Lions’ has a group of four would-be bombers – complete with Yorkshire accents – coming down from the North to London to do the attack.  Sound familiar?  Just a little too close.

Then there’s the delicate issue of who makes the film.  ‘The Producers’ – bad taste comedy about the Nazis made by a Jewish producer, with Russian and German Jewish parents, and who also served in combat in WW2.  4 Lions is the brainchild of a comedian / comedy writer who’s best known for sketches and set-up pieces that often involve unsuspecting people who believe that they’re taking part in something ‘straight’ and are actually the butts of the humour.  4 Lions could well have been more acceptable had it been made by another comedian or had the involvement of someone directly involved.

Basically, as far as ‘4 Lions’ is concerned it’s badly timed, too close to home and made by a team who appear to be unsympathetic to the issues involved.  Morris and the film makers apparently did a great deal of research in to the whole mindset and culture of extremists to make the film.  Perhaps they should have researched whether it’s just too soon.  Or whether it’s a good idea at all to laugh about people being blown up less than 5 years ago.

Incompetent or Dishonest – the new TV Game Show for 2010

blackmail_smallGood Evening, and welcome to this week’s edition of ‘Incompetent or Dishonest’, the new game show where YOU get the chance to decide whether our elected representatives and civil servants are just a bunch of incompetent dorks or whether they’re actually criminally inclined thieving bastards!  We have our usual prizes – a box of pre-completed P45s held here by the delectable Suzanne from HR, and a box of pre-completed Arrest Warrants held by our own boy in blue, Chief Inspector Plod of the Yard!

This week, our contestants are all Ministers and Civil Servants responsible for Immigration and Employment  Policies, who’ve been chosen from the many eligible Government Departments to argue for their liberty and careers!  The lucky winners get a P45 and freedom, the not so lucky losers get a stretch in Wandsworth Prison!

Let’s go to our research department to find out a little more about this weeks contestants…. 

There has been a depressing tendency in the last year or two for our dear Government (and their supporters across the nation) to find themselves in various embarrassing situations due to illegal immigrants being employed in various public sector jobs.   It’s not a good record for HMG – let’s just take a look:

We don’t want to embarrass the Government too much, so let’s just look at the last couple of years… Starting off back in 2007 with illegal immigrants being able to get jobs in the Security industry.   In September 2009 Baroness Scotland is found to have employed an illegal immigrant as a housekeeper…. In November 2009 we have illegal immigrants as NHS cleaners.   And today we have stories of more illegal immigrants working for the Home Office and the NHS.

Oh dear…not a good record is it?  Just how difficult can it be to check someone’s paperwork when they apply for jobs in the Public Sector?  After all, when many people apply for work these days one of the first things that is requested is a copy of your passport or other papers proving you are entitled to work in the UK.  Now…if you think that our brilliant civil servants aren’t checking the paperwork, or that the procedures are not being followed, you should text ‘Incompetent’ to our hotline.  On the other hand, if you think backhanders are being taken, or people are deliberately letting folks through the screening process for some reason even if they’re not entitled to work in the UK – text ‘Dishonest’.

If some of our contestants look like winning an Arrest Warrant, they can choose to play their Joker, in which they can pass the blame on to some minimum wage minion and escape with their sorry necks.  And in a new feature for this series of Incompetent or Dishonest we give you viewers the chance to text ‘Treason’ to our hotline; if a contestant gets enough ‘Treason’ votes they’re off to The Tower!

So…let’s play ‘Incompetent or Dishonest’ – and remember….ministerial P45s mean ‘New Government’!


Are you a ‘but’ man?

sergeantbilkoI was reminded earlier today, whilst reading a book called ‘Life 101’,  of a useful piece of advice from one of the more under-rated personal development gurus of the mid 20th Century – Sergeant Ernest Bilko of the United States Army.  Let’s listen to what he has to say on the topic of a three letter word…

You said, “but.” I’ve put my finger on the whole trouble. You’re a “but” man. Don’t say, “but.” That little word “but” is the difference between success and failure. Henry Ford said, “I’m going to invent the automobile,” and Arthur T. Flanken said, “But . . .”

And so it was, according to Bilko, that Ford remains in history whilst Flanken doesn’t even make the footnotes.

‘But’ is indeed one of the words in the English language that fills me with trepidation.  During my years in consulting, hearing someone agree with what you were proposing, and then adding the word ‘…but’ (complete with pause) to the end of a sentence was the equivalent of telling me that I was as likely to get cooperation as I was to win the Nobel Prize for Physics and Literature in the same year.

There some occasions when it’s valuable to pull someone up short before they thunder off and implement some plan or other that at best can be described as ‘unwise’.  And there are times when the use of but can provide a useful reminder for folks that their master plan requires a few tweaks before it will work properly.  But often ‘but’ is used as a prelude to a road-block.

Rather than ‘but’ I now try and use ‘and’ or ‘or’ instead of ‘but’ – then rephrase the part of teh sentence after the old ‘but’ to look towards solutions.  For example:

I’d like to buy a new computer, but it costs too much.


I’d like to buy a new computer, and in order to give me time to save the extra money, I’ll put the purchase off for a month and see if I can do some overtime in the meantime to help raise the extra cash.

The first sentence becomes, in the but-less second sentence, an intention with a timescale and a partial solution to the problem of money.  As the guys at Honda say, ‘and’ is a great little word – it opens up opportunities for solutions, rather than closing things down.

Don’t be a but-nik!

All hail the scapegoats!

scapegoatIn ancient Jewish society, the scapegoat was a normal goat that was ceremonially loaded with all the sins of the community, and then driven from town in to the wilderness, as part of the ceremonies around the Day or Atonement.  The goat would almost certainly die in the desert, and with it would die the sins of the community.  The term has passed in to general usage, as we all know, to refer to someone who gets to carry the can when the crap hits the fan.

Earlier today I blogged on the topic of Philip Laing, the student in trouble here in Sheffield, and was reminded of a comment made by my better half about whether the venom being expended towards this fellow was actually a form of scapegoating.  We’ve had over two years of miscellaneous nonsense here in the UK – the banking crisis, MP’s expenses, the Recession, the War in Afghanistan and Iraq – the list goes on.  Then conveniently along comes someone who we can all have a go at, who isn’t rich and powerful and who’s actually done something that is pretty damn stupid and manages to annoy vast numbers of people.

In fact, the perfect scapegoat!

Here’s a quick guide for you to help you play ‘Spot the Scapegoat’ – a useful parlour game for this winter preceding a general election when we can expect the Government and Media to try and blame anyone and everyone  – except the genuine culprits – for the wrongs of the world.


A scapegoat must be plausible.  there’s little point in picking on someone totally innocuous.  You need someone or a group of people who’ve been bad, been caught out, and for whose behaviour there can be little excuse.  Little old ladies caught exceeding the speed limit by 5 miles per hour don’t really meet the requirement. 


An ideal scapegoat would be suitably powerless.  After all, we don’t want them coming back at us, do we?  Really powerful people will rarely become scapegoats unless they’ve upset some even more powerful people.  The media don’t want to upset someone with muscle who could make the media look like horse’s bottoms.


Having found a plausible, powerless person to act as scapegoat, their bad behaviour has to be ‘scalable’.  Scalability is a technical term for the ability of a system to cope with heavier loads than expected without needing a lot of work.  So, if we want a good scapegoat on which we can unload a pile of public anger, the scapegoat’s behaviour must be something that can be ‘worked up’ in some way.  So, Mr Laing’s offence can easily be used to indicate that it’s the start of the end of Western Civilisation as we know it as respect for all that is good in society declines, etc. 


If you want a good scapegoat, they have to be public figures or elevated in to the rank of public notoriety by the media or the Internet.  If you can get a good gossipy campaign going, apparently driven by the general public, you’re in clover.

No apologies

Your perfect scapegoat should ideally be photographed with a black cloak and a Victorian moustache, eating babies and shouting that they are sorry for nothing.  If this ideal scenario can’t be achieved, then a lack of apology will do.  If the scapegoat attempts a half-arsed apology, all the better.  But if they go for the genuine apology, their value as a scapegoat is diminished.

Have something ready to sneak out

Apart from deflecting blame from the real culprits, the exposure and persecution of a good scapegoat can offer the Government and other people of power and influence the opportunity to sweep other things under the carpet.  If you have a scapegoat, never waste the opportunity to get a few bad-news stories out at the same time.

Get a life!

Being a discussion on the Etiquette of the Insult for the 21st century… 

duellistsI was recently fortunate enough to have this old chestnut of an insult thrown at me online in a discussion about some news item.  It’s a strange thing to say to anyone; the fact that I’m typing indicates I do indeed have a life, and to be honest I think with my achievements I’ve managed to fit 2 and a half lives or so in to things so far.  🙂

The intention of this piece is not to name and shame, however tempting that is…it just set me thinking about insults and abuse in general.  I think in recent years the unpleasant behaviour of insulting folks – especially online or via text – has become much more frequent.  I think a lot of it is that it’s easier to be abusive anonymously, and the extra mileage placed between insulter and insultee does make a smack in the mouth or a slap across the face harder to deliver back to the insulter.  So, here we go.  A 21st Century Guide to insulting Etiquette.

Of course, gentlemen and ladies do not insult each other…as I know very few of either (and doubt I am a gentleman myself) this is hopefully useful stuff for the rest of us!


When I was a kid, you tended to bite your tongue before insulting someone because there was a serious risk of being thumped.  In previous centuries you would have had a serious risk of being shot in a pistol duel or scarred or killed in a sword duel.  If you ‘knew the right people’ you could have your insulter beaten up.  Now that you can insult anonymously and from outside arm’s reach, it has made people more willing to insult people than ever before, and for less good reasons.  Which moves us on to point number 2 – have good reason to insult.

Insult escalation

George Orwell once commented to the effect that if you reviewed a book and found it ‘outstanding’, and then three weeks later found an even better book, then you couldn’t really write ‘even more outstanding than the last outstanding book’.  I guess these days it’s ‘ratings inflation’.  But in days when there were potentially serious consequences for insulting people, all involved were careful about the insults thrown and the reaction taken.  I might easily let a mild insult go by if the consequence to my following it up were to be a duel.  I would think twice before slapping someone across the face after he’d called me a moron for wearing black shoes when we all know that brown was the de riguer colour of teh day.  Today, there are fewer consequences and it’s easier to get in to a verbal pissing match.  So, if you feel teh need to insult, be proportionate – don’t go over the top and push the other person in to a corner  from which they may lash out.  And, if you’ve been insulted, think hard and long before escalating.

It was only a joke…

Oh dear – the well worn phrase of the coward, the moron or the child.  If you insult someone, have the guts to stand there when you’re called on it and either repeat your insult  or wholeheartedly apologise for your behaviour.  Bleating that ‘it was only a joke’ is the defence of three groups of people:

  1. The child – it works to some degree in the playground but once you’re over 12 years old you should start leaving this phrase behind.  It’s continued use indicates you may have the mental age of an infant, and should therefore not be out and about with the grownups.
  2. The moron – the sort of slack-jawed suburban yokel who believes the Jeremy Kyle programme to be current affairs and Wayne and Waynetta Slob to be fine role models can hardly be expected to know better.
  3. The coward – falling back on this defence when one doesn’t fall in to category (1) or (2) above indicates cowardice. 

Falling back on this phrase after being called on your insults thus catapults you in to one of three groups of society unfitting for a mature adult.  So don’t do it.

I was drunk / stoned

Some hold this to be a mitigating circumstance, others regard it as making matters worse – as well as you being insulting it indicates you can’t hold your drink / drugs.  Again – don’t fall back on this – either repeat your insult or wholeheartedly apologise.  This is a weasel response.

Water off a duck’s back

Very few insults are worth getting your blood pressure elevated over.  Even fewer are worth engaging in wit and repartee with the insulter.  Remember that by the very fact they’ve insulted you, they’re not ladies or gentlemen.  Therefore they’re unworthy and engaging with them, even to the level of ‘And your mother wears army boots’, simply brings you down to their level.  Sometimes the best response is to behave as if you hadn’t noticed it.  Online this can be most satisfying, as the truly dim insulter will carry on making louder and more ridiculous comments until they prove to the rest of the world what you already know… 

So, ignore where possible!

Graceful Acceptance

Sometimes the recipient of an insult can carry out the graceful acceptance manoeuvre in which there is an apparent agreement with teh sentiments of the insult.  This isn’t always applicable but when it is it can totally disarm the insulter.

Full and wholehearted apology

The original insult may have been triggered by what you consider to be a genuine wrong, and in that case you still need to deal with the original problem.  But if you do find yourself in a position where apology seems to be the most sensible, adult and mature way forward, then apologise for the insult fully, whole-heartedly and publicly.  A non-public apology after you’ve denigrated someone in public is, to be honest, a little weaselly. 

With luck, the person you insulted will be gracious enough to accept your apology and walk away from the whole palaver.  At which point you’ll probably both be wondering how the Devil you got in to the mess in the first place….

Screwtape casts the Net

The following email arrived in my Inbox this morning.  I’m not sure what to make of it, but I thought I’d share it hear as it has some rather intriguing ideas in it.

Dear Wormwood,

You must think we senior tempters spend our heads in the burning sand.  Of course we’re aware of the Internet – we’ve had our influence on it from the very beginning.  There was a time when the humans expressed a concern about going to war based purely on the fact that their pathetic attempts to communicate with each other would fail at the dropping of the first hydrogen bomb.  Old Slitgrubber realised that this was a fine opportunity for us to increase despair by prompting them with a means of improving their communications, and hence making them slightly less squeamish about war.  Of course, it wasn’t the war we were interested in – it was the wondrous sense of fear and despair that such things bring about. 

Of course, The Enemy was soon on the case – they are just SO bothersome – and managed to wrench some good out of the Internet, prompting it’s use by ‘normal’ humans who could use it to talk to each other,  do business, send greetings – all sorts of nonsense.  But, our Research Department was always on the case and they very soon realised that the Internet still provides a fine opportunity for soul-hunting.  Indeed, it’s use as a campaigning tool for us has improved with every new generation of software.  By Web 4.0 I’m sure it will be delivering souls by the Gigabyte!

Your proposals are, as always, dear nephew, of mixed value.  Are you sure that some piece of human brain hasn’t got lodged up there with your own?  They range from the blatantly obvious to the abjectly stupid, with fleeting glimpses of items of possible use.  But, we are here to teach and you are here to be taught; I suppose I’d better get on with it.  It’s a big subject; there are many obvious opportunities for temptation out there that can be used in less than obvious ways for our end, but I’ll investigate those at a later date.

Today I’ll give you a technique of achieving a ‘quick hit’ on your candidate, something that’s useful for …ahem….’grabbing low hanging fruit’.  See how I’m getting all the jargon right?  Who says you can’t teach an old devil new tricks?

The Internet annihilates time.  Wormwood, to you and I time is something that we don’t take too much notice of.  For the humans it’s critical – many of them run around claiming they don’t have enough time to do this, that and the other whilst wasting what time they do have on activities that don’t benefit them at all – in fact, in many cases, they don’t even get pleasure from what they spend the time doing!   The Internet has greatly helped us here. Email, Immediate Messaging, Facebook and even Text Messaging has allowed us to short circuit their thinking by convincing them that whatever pops up in their electronic in boxes is actually important, rather than just immediate.

You might be aware of the work of that objectionable human Jung.  Why he couldn’t have just kept spouting the useful materialism of Freud I have no idea, but The Enemy clearly inspired him on more than one occasion and he came up with the following observation – it’s almost as if he was reading the research Department’s report on technological advances and how we can use them:

“[Most advances] are deceptive sweetenings of existence, like speedier communications, which unpleasantly accelerate the tempo of life and leave us with less time than ever before.  Omnis festinatio ex parte diaboli est – all haste is of the Devil”

Fortunately for us, the humans don’t take too much notice of such comments and we can still con them in to thinking that all these advances give them time.  What they actually do is eat up their time, encourage them to focus on things that are immediate or that give momentary pleasures, encourage them to forget what’s truly important and reply to all these messages quickly and without deep thought – and hopefully in the process cause offence and irritation to the senders of some of the messages by their thoughtless response.  If we’re really lucky we can encourage a good run of selfishness in the souls we’re interested in, encouraging them to forget activities such as prayer and contemplation  – all by the simple expedient of providing a new game to play online.

So, Wormwood – see what you can do with your case in terms of getting them to really take on board as many forms of new technology as possible, and, more importantly, encourage them to take their pleasure in the trivial, accelerate the tempo of their lives so that they don’t know whether they’re coming or going.  And then we can really get to work…

The mail ended here.  I’m going to keep my eye on my inbox to see whether I receive any further missives from Screwtape, who(what??)ever he is.