Bland

Summary

From Westminster politicians to rabbit-hutch identikit homes to faceless footballers and even to bedlinen and menswear, why is everything so bland?

This is not a new phenomenon. Back in 1990 – which was a sort of strange ‘golden age’ for me, Spitting Image were complaining about the blandness of everything.

Westminster – scrap the lengthy summer recess

One of the things that really strikes me having given myself some social media time-off, is how MPs were complaining they had little to do legislation and scrutiny-wise because ministers had made a complete mess of the timetabling. (It happened in 2012 too). Soon after MPs went off for their summer break, all hell broke loose with the Home Office – but without any formal mechanism to hold ministers to account for what had happened. By the time MPs return, the storm may have passed but the issues will still remain – as I’ve outlined in previous blogposts. If lengthy summer holidays are bad for children’s learning, isn’t there a similar case for lengthy summer recesses being bad for politics and for the scrutiny of ministers in general? At the moment, scrutiny by soundbite feels deeply unsatisfactory.

Now, not all Westminster politicians are bland. In one sense I should know having met more than my fair share. The ones that stand out from the crowd for me are the ones that you can have more than a half-decent exchange with on social media (thus making them more accessible to constituents & the people in general, while showing a human face at the same time) while also campaigning successfully on specific issues. Robert Halfon for the Conservatives on fuel duty stands out as probably having achieved more on the back benches than many of his colleagues holding junior ministerial posts. Dr Stella Creasy (she has a Ph.D) too has shown a huge amount of courage in the face of tackling internet abuse. I’ve mentioned my local MP Dr Julian Huppert (who also has a PhD) on several occasions, and this latest funding announcement on cycling in Cambridge will have a massive impact locally. No, really, funding for the Chisholm Trail will take a significant amount of traffic off city centre roads that I use both on the bus and as a cyclist. All three of these MPs for me stand out as being community champions – especially through social media. But what about the rest? Westminster: Look and learn from these three.

Comedy

I bought tickets to see the lovely Lucy Porter (who I saw at the Bloomsbury theatre several years ago – she was awesome then) and Mark Thomas who is the sort of protester lots of us want to be but probably don’t have the courage combined with the sense of humour to get there. These two are definitely ***not bland*** – so why do the likes of Mock The Week constantly give us week after week of #DiversityFail? All too-often it comes across as a bunch of posh boys laughing at each other’s farting jokes. Come on Hugh Dennis, let someone else have a go!

Channel 4’s Ten O’Clock live was onto something in principle, but failed in the execution. Personally I think they should have scrapped the ‘group debate’ which ended up descending into shouting matches between newspaper columnists, and kept the 1-2-1 interviews with politicians. Also, I’d like to have seen David Mitchell and Charlie Brooker as the ‘anchors’ with a different pair of new up-and-coming female comedians each week to provide a much-needed ‘showcase’ for female stand-ups. My general feeling about comedy on TV is that producers are no longer willing to push the boundaries – except perhaps when it’s the boys competing to be the most sexually vulgar. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I prefer female standup comedians generally: They can be as explicit as all the rest, but having been on the receiving end of far too much sexist & misogynist abuse in life anyway, they have a different perspective. When Kate Smurthwaite came to Cambridge recently, as well as being rip-roaringly funny with her anecdotes I also felt – as I did with the likes of Tiff Stevenson, Shappi Khorsandi and Lucy Porter (all of whom I’ve seen on stage live) to be on the side of the oppressed rather than the oppressor.

Football

I’m going to write a longer piece someday soon tearing into FIFA and the FA, lambasting them as symptomatic of the wider problems of the global super-rich and the polarisation of wealth. I am able to ‘follow’ football matches having been brought up on the beautiful game, but I have zero empathy for the footballers of today. When the seemingly infinite resources of today’s game produces the captain of his country who, before that qualified as a medical doctor, goes onto complete a Ph.D and publicly incites the overthrown of the military dictatorship ruling his or her homeland, then I’ll listen. Until then, I’ll consider the game stolen from the people. Football and the fans deserve far better than the parasites that are FIFA and the FA.

Rabbit-hutch housing

I was cycling past some of the many new ‘apartments’ being built today. There are a number of developments where it looks like the architects and the developers are genuinely taking the proverbial out of the people that are going to buy them. Boxes unceremoniously stacked one on top of the other identikit style that actually make them look like rabbit hutches – but ones that you wouldn’t want even your rabbit to live in. One group of campaigners locally are struggling to prevent a Victorian terrace from becoming another box by the station. The developments around Cambridge railway station are striking in their architectural vacuousness and complete lack of imagination from the architects, designers and developers.

Menswear

I’ve got a follow-up blogpost coming up about this too. My most recent post on men’s clothing is here. In a nutshell, men’s clothing hasn’t really changed that much since the end of the first world war. Interesting given what people in futuristic film clips from ages ago thought we’d be wearing today. Yeah, I’m still waiting for news on the hoverboards from Back to the Future II. They’d better be ready before I’m too old or too dead to ride one!

Compare menswear outlets to other shops – or rather the high street in general & on how things have changed over the decades. Men’s clothes shops – whether in department stores or otherwise, seem to be the ones that have not evolved at all. Have a look the next time you are in one of the big department stores. Have a look in the menswear section and ask yourself in terms of products and layout how different it is to the department stores of 30 years ago. Two of the biggest changes over the 30 years has been the demise of the record/music shop and the camera/photographs shop, and the rise of the mobile phone/communications outlets.

Wardrobe-wise, there are about 3-4 ‘dream items’ that are on my radar, after which something inside me is saying I won’t want to spend much on big-item purchases (such as a new coat or new suit) for the best part of a decade. When I joined the civil service back in 2004, I made the conscious decision that shopping for brand new clothes was more of an investment rather than consumption. This changed my mindset towards clothes quite considerably. For a start, quality mattered. Does the quality of the garment match the price attached to it? Secondly, labels should be on the inside, not the outside. The information on the label (where it’s made, of what material, and yes, washing instructions) indicates whether it is value for money. The brand alone does not. Finally, does it make me that little bit more noticeable from the crowd, and for the right reasons? On that last point, I can’t pretend to have made this call right every time – though I reserve the right to be the only person in the world that liked me in a designer cream suit reminiscent of Liverpool FC’s ‘Spice Boys’ of 1996.

Bed linen – made for the “Middle class is magical” songstress

You know the lyrics:

“Middle class is magical, a safe world free from strife/ Let bad things happen to other folk!, while you read Country Life.” [Have a sing-song here with Nelson]

I went on a hunt for a new duvet cover – sort of in the hope that changing some things around in my bedroom would somehow help with my sleeping problems. There’s something strangely satisfying getting rid of old stuff – especially I find when I take it to charity shops. My preference is to go for the local ones rather than the big-branded ones, but either way it means I’m less cluttered, someone else gets something they need at a knockdown price and money can be ploughed into a project doing some social good. (Cambridge people, next time you do a big clear out, take your unwanted things to the shops down Mill Road (east side of the railway bridge) or Burleigh Street by the Grafton Centre! My serious point here is I spent about five years of my life being dependent on charity shops for clothes. When you’re on a very low income (as I was in my undergraduate days then for 2 years after until I joined the civil service) such shops can be a financial lifeline. Interestingly, in Brighton (where I was for over half that time) what was in the charity shops was far less bland than what was in the department stores.

“But isn’t charity becoming bland too?”

Looks like Spitting Image from 1990 were ahead of their time once again.

But back to bed linen, it’s as if everything in the shops was straight out of a magazine aimed at a particular demographic – gender, income, occupation of spouse, even political views!

“Nothing too ostentatious Harold, remember we have standards to maintain!”

It was bland designs everywhere. Oh, and my general bugbear of too much polyester. There are those who for medical reasons will need polyester sheets. For example allergies. Personally I find any clothing that has polyester in it means my skin cannot breathe. My skin, like my lungs likes to breathe. If my skin isn’t allowed to breathe, then it says:

“I’m gonna make you sweat!” [In that 1990 techno-rap voice from back in the day]

There are other phrases that have me running for the hills. ‘Non-iron’ is one of them. I once had a non-iron shirt that I quite liked – completely oblivious to the impact it was having on me at the time, or the fact that it didn’t have much of a defined shape to it. It was my late grandfather, who was in the army, who taught me how to sew on buttons & how to get a shirt or trouser crease ironed so sharp you could cut steel with them. To this day I’ve not yet got to the standards that he reached.

The search for the unique ‘you’ – just like everybody else

There was one clothing company that tried this sort of slogan…and it didn’t work. It was around the peak of the anti-globalisation protests in 2001 – remember them? Then there’s the lampooning of the “I’m just going off to find myself” slogan as said individual walks in front of a mirror and gasps: “Oh! There I am!”

Looks like I need to get a mirror then. And look in front of it. Preferably before I walk out of the front door? I’ll let you be the judge of that :-)

 

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2 Responses to Bland

  1. Pingback: Bland – A dragon’s best friend | Public Sector Blogs

  2. You are right that it is exceedingly bland at present but just beneath the surface there is real and widely held discontent with the way we do politics certainly in England. We need not only people who will fight a corner but longer term thinking about vision for society, values that engage people in public and community life and decision making that equips the UK for the decades ahead. As the next General Election gets ever closer, the dominant thinking will get ever more short term and tactical.
    You’re right to pick out certain MPs who want to make a difference but we have a very weak legislature and a strong executive. Were the balance to be changed, which you might be implying, how far do we have the right people in place for a different role?

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