Out Now!

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Giving is an industry

Yesterday a bulky envelope came through the letterbox from the Red Cross. It contained a bookmark, two attractive looking cards, two coasters, and a pen. With these came an invitation to pay a monthly subscription to said charity. It prompted the urge to check out how much the whiz-kids who thought this would open my pockets were being paid. I went on the Red Cross website, clicked on FAQ’s and scrolled down to the relevant question:

How much of my donation is spent on your directors' salaries? 

But answer was there none. Instead we had gobbledegook :
Our directors' salaries form part of our administration costs and are not linked to your donation as they do not work on Performance Related Pay (i.e. their salaries are not a percentage of our income).
Followed by the familiar line:
Charities are complex organisations with the same need for professionalism and effective management structures as any other organisation in the private or public sector.You just know when you are being talked down to.

You had to search further for a straight answer. In 2010 Red Cross Salary costs including National Insurance and Pension commitments amounted to £69.6m. Its head honchos earned between £90,000 to £180,000. 

This is par for the course. Charity websites show salaries hovering between £50,000 and £80,000 with job descriptions such as ‘corporative development managers.’ 

Save the Children spent £88million on humanitarian assistance in 2009 and £58 million on staff wages. Child Poverty Action Group spent £1, 5551,000 of its income on alleviating child poverty and £1, 9990,000 on staff wages – though its chief executive came in a little less than the Red Cross’s at a measly £137,000.

But then charities like Save the Children can afford to be generous. The largest donor to this charity in 2009 was the Government, which gave £19million. The European Union and America contributed a further £22million between them.

This it seems is not enough. The Charity Aid’s Foundation (Which recently advertised the job of Head of Advisory and Consulting at a salary of £75,000) called for action to ensure that young people thought about giving. Its Chief executive John Low said:

“The young need to be taught about charities as part of the national curriculum.” This was in response to a report that older people give more to charities than the young. Mind you, it is this older generation that has benefited from cheap mortgages, the housing bubble, free education and who enjoyed early retirement on relatively generous pensions. Wecan afford to be generous. 

This, apparently, ‘meaner’ younger generation have student debts to pay off;  they’re exhorted to save for impossible mortgages as well as providing for their old age. Their taxes subsidise this charity and that, along with overseas development – and now the proposal that children have compulsory lessons on why they should give more. It’s all very reminiscent of ‘political apathy’ and for much the same reasons.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Standing in my garage doesn't make me a car

 Before the Roman came to Rye or out to Severn strode,
The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road.
A reeling road, a rolling road, that rambles round the shire,
And after him the parson ran, the sexton and the squire;
A merry road, a mazy road, and such as we did tread...
...Or in my case Kindle. 

What a mistake, downloading the COMPLETE works of G K Chesterton for something less than a penny. I should have realized that something might be missing - in this case interactive contents.

I read for forty –five minutes every night before my head hits the pillow and a gently snoring fills the room. Sometimes the house shakes, or so I am told. For the last four weeks I have been reading the ‘Complete Works of G.K. Chesterton’ and have reached a Kindle milestone. 


I will be dead before I finish or have reached the stage of not knowing what I’m reading – or care. 
At present my 3% sees me tramping through the foothills of his essays. I suspect there are thousands upon thousands, but my Kindle offers no inkling. I am on a 'rolling English road' leading to nowhere. But the journey is pleasant. Last night I ‘went to Birmingham by way of Beachy Head.’ Or so it seemed.

Why don’t I just stop? Partly bloody-mindedness, and partly because, to modify a popular ballad - I’ve grown accustomed to his voice. It is a voice of past certainties robustly expressed; self indulgent at times, often sentimental but with flashes of wisdom and humor that bring me good dreams, though that might be the beer.

I'm coming round to the idea that Chesterton makes an ideal counterpoint to Gore Vidal, one Christian, the other Atheist but both possessing the same magical gift. I can imagine them, celestial gladiators, and suitably garbed, exchanging barbed quips and aphorisms to admiring Cherubim. Your task is to spot the twoVidal quotes from the selection below.
“Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.”

 "There is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise."

  "There is something about a bureaucrat that does not like a poem."
“The way to love anything is to realize that it may be lost.” 
“Do not be so open-minded that your brains fall out.” 

So, will I continue? Probably. I shall report back when I reach the inconceivable figure of 4%. Open the champagne when I hit 5% In the meantime, like the Californian miner of old, I shall continue to stumble upon nuggets like:

“A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.”

If there were no God, there would be no atheists.”

An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered.”

“The traveler sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see.”

“I regard golf as an expensive way of playing marbles.”

And when I’m feeling angry at yet another petty absurdity foisted on us by Brussels, I shall remember:

And for to fight the Frenchman I did not much desire;
But I did bash their baggonets because they came arrayed
To straighten out the crooked road an English drunkard made,

Bu what the bloody hell are baggonets? Militarised bread sticks employed as bayonets? Who knows. And who knows - in time I may grow corpulent, grow a fine moustache and wear a cloak and felt hat.

This curious snippet of GK Chesterton accepting an honour from Worcester College would, in today’s climate, bring mobs on to the streets and close consulates

Friday, 14 September 2012

Two Skulls

We had packed off our beautiful daughter to Lyon and, suitably sombre, we decamped to the British Museum and made our separate ways. I gravitated to the Egyptian section and was held by the unexpected.

 Two skulls.*

I stared at them for some time, these two skulls. Two of them revealed advanced tooth decay, but then again they were over four thousand years old. They were nut-brown and smooth and my hand itched to stroke them. For a moment they appeared more substantial, more alive than the dim reflected shadows shuffling  behind me.

All three were creatures from an alien world, one frozen in artefacts and stone, papyri, symbolic tomb paintings. All three resonated, evoking vivid images of red deserts, dense swathes of reeds beneath dark blue skies, gargantuan pillars, priests caught in their shadow, jackals scrabbling in moonlit tombs. Time drifted by. 

Two skulls became five.*

But we had a train to catch and I a full bladder that demanded attention.

One death is a tragedy a million a statistic. It is why charnel houses and ossuaries hold little interest beyond the macabre. All those stories crying out for attention. Too many. But those skulls and their lives stayed with me for the rest of the day and the day after that.

I found myself looking, not at people, but at what lay beneath, their skeletal structure and skulls. Would a skeleton bother to brush his or her teeth? Probably, and with them their fibula and tibia, sternum and pate. None of them would scowl. Skeletons can't.

The Tube rattled as bone clinked on bone, flesh-sweat and flatulence no longer present in my new skeleton kingdom. Neither, too, were beautiful women. They were the first to regain their flesh as my reverie faded. Still, one day we to will be calcified or turned into ash – except for those lucky few who will end up behind glass cases to be scrutinised by idlers from the C66th.

I had no camera that day.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Mistress of the Stone

I was feeling restless. Clients had come and gone, mostly gone and Sheri was immersed in her books. When she drank she didn’t like interrupting. When she read it was worse. When she read and drank it was time to find another room in another city – and burn the phone.

Outside the sky fluttered, its light sinking in darkness and heat. Skimmers flashed and vanished like predatory fish; slower craft weaved between slender chimneys, copper and glass buildings, and the debris of earlier times. There was a smell in the air, the stench of rat-like men and damp cannibal steam condensing on ancient brick and dribbling slime to black ponds below. I closed the windows, switched on the desk lamp. Poured myself  four fingers of bourbon. I held the glass to the lamp, enjoying the fragmented diamond twinkle of cut crystal, the rust coloured glow of the bourbon it held and downed it in one. It was time to find Sheri…time to start dreaming.

I walked along corridors, shelves groaning with books - on dark nights they screamed – past lesser shelves, whispering in parchment and shadow. Eventually I reached the main library, where Sheri holed up when she’d been hitting the booze.

The library was cavernous, books lining the walls from ceiling to floor. Walnut cabinets gleamed in dim lighting, each holding neatly rolled parchments and maps, yellowing Playboys, Penthouses and Hustle, Glocks, Smith and Wessons, Mausers, Rugers, all loaded and ready for use. I’d pretty much got the room the way I liked. I hoped Sheri wasn’t drinking. It seemed a pity to move

In the corner squatted a low obsidian table, books scattered across it like pirate doubloons; some calf-skin covered and crumbling with age; others bound in pale leather and inscribed with small patterned diamonds. They gleamed emerald and dark ruby as my torch skimmed across them and settled on Miss Lamour, lost in a world of her own.

“What gives?”

Sheri Lamour sighed and closed the book, stroked its front cover with a pale finger tipped in magenta. There wasn’t a bottle in sight and I ended her sigh with one of my own. One of relief. 

“Oh, Clay,” she breathed. She breathed again and I breathed with her, wondering who would be the first to give up. She had that look in her eye, one I hadn’t seen for some time. She was in love and it wasn’t with me.

“What’s his name? ”I snarled. I hadn’t snarled for some time. There’d been little need. Maybe it’s my face or the fact that a punch works best without warning. 

“Xander Daltry.”

 She said, without a trace of apology. Dames. 

Her lips twitched in what may have been a smile. “And there’s one here for you…Luisa Tavares. She’s your kind of girl, Clay. She’s my kind of girl.”

This had possibilities – except for one thing.

And Sheri read minds.

“Xander Daltry – he’s a dream man, Clay. . .You’re the real thing.”