The better part …

Discretion …

Is in the eye of the beholder. Not so long ago, I was interviewing a band, and the eminence gris, who led practically every answer, every conversation, and seemed to get a little frisky when he wasn’t in control (and to be fair, the whole thing was fundamentally his show, and a good one at that …) launched into more than one diatribe. The first was against screens.

I think screens are a big problem, generally … there are too many screens in life, I spent 30 years as a film composer, looking at screens all day and then when the computers came in round about 84/85 so i’m looking at that and I went right through that whole thing and by the time I got to the end of it, film composing, I would hardly look at the screen, and I would hardly look at the computer. Or encourage anybody else to do it. Don’t look at the things; listen. Because that’s how you find out.

Now, as I sit in the pub tip-tapping away, I think he’s got a point. But it’s not screens per se, but ‘screens’, that is, those screens which make decisions. Except they don’t. They react to a set of parameters. And these parameters hardly ever relate to real life. They are merely what’s nost convenient for companies to work with. Take our current broadband hell. They transferred on October 18th. Since then, nothing. Except ‘6 days’, which is what they’ve said three times. We have no internet. I can’t do what I’m meant to be doing. It’s costing me a fortune in beer, and life has been shortened as a result.

And all because no individual can make a decision. ‘I’ve given you the most compensation we’re allowed to offer’. That’s £20. Piss poor effort, children. Customer service means serving the customer, not bleating and saying this can’t be done, that can’t be done. I was under the impression that this was the 21st century. Perhaps not.

Someone fucks up at a restaurant – like when I was recently asked whether everything was fine with the meal. ‘Not really’, came the answer. ‘Oh’, she smiled, failing to understand. ‘Do you need me to call you a taxi?’

No idea of what to do other than repeat what’s on the card.

I recently reviewed a pub for one of those companies. The pub failed to hit half of the vital things. You know, upselling, all that crap. The review was quite poor … in relation to the criteria set by the company. But the very things they failed to do made it, for me, a more ‘real’ place. Staffed by people, not order cards.

He carried on later:

I think that’s just a general point, on a larger scale, the systematic decimation of apprenticeships, has been the ruination of this country, because that is actually how you learn. You sat there, a grumpy man did his job you’d then tentatively reach for something and he’d go ‘don’t do that because this’ll happen, that’ll happen, this’ll happen, don’t do it’. You learnt. Systems, which is what everything’s based on now, don’t work. All systems teach pople is how to work with systems. The systems themselves are mostly flawed as is the financial system which is why we’re all in the shit – if you make systems king, you’re fucked. If you make people, and what they know, what their hands know, what you actually know, not what’s in a magazine or something but what you actually know … you stick with that you won’t go far wrong.

Dammit, he was a bit of a pain, but he was on the money. The system culture infantalises people. It stops them from making decisions, so they become incapable of making decisions. Then when a real option comes along, well … they’re fucked.

This financial crisis is all down to the impression that if an economy isn’t growing by more than it grew before, it is in fact going backwards. This is dumb.

The internet was designed to enhance communication and lighten the workload. What it’s done is force us to find new ways to take up time. New ways to avoid actually doing stuff.

Anyway. Time I uploaded this …

You can’t always get what you want

But then again, sometimes you can.

Want is a funny word, one of those words which has undergone a subtle yet devastating change in meaning in recent times. It is, perhaps, the word which most exemplifies the modern condition, and when I mean modern, I pretty much mean the psychological condition which came about as a result of the reformation.

The reformation, loosely speaking, was predicated on two particular issues, the first being the call of sola scriptura, or back to the bible (that’s a very loose translation), and the second being the insistence that the individual have a personal relationship with god. That is, the bible was re-assessed, re-translated, and presented in the vernacular, so that no interpretation by religious authorities was necessary, and the individual might decide for his or herself how god was to be worshipped (this is a self-serving and only partially accurate analysis of this whole movement, but it will do nicely). Naturally, things weren’t that simple, not least because you can’t have people making their own minds up, because then society becomes a bit of a nightmare. Just ask Calvin. Jean, not Klein …

This general movement towards an individual making their own decisions, rather than behaving as directed, leads directly to the delightful americanese of self-improvement gurus who suggest that you can be anything you want to to. Bless. Plainly nonsense, and the kind of nonsense which can result in abject humiliation: witness those deluded individuals on ‘talent’ shows. Someone has told them they can sing, and what’s worse, they’ve believed them.

Now, the proper (by which I mean the original, whatever that is) meaning of ‘want’ is lack. This is described as ‘chiefly archaic’ by my dictionary, but is current enough to have featured in Pink Floyd’s Us and Them – ‘For want of the price, of tea and a slice, the old man died’ – and still feature in the name of the charity War on Want.

Incidentally, this always confused me when my father said ‘I want doesn’t get’ (one of his favourite sayings), as I surmised that this was a) bleeding obvious, because getting obviates wanting and b) wrong, because ‘I want hasn’t got’ is more accurate.


The modern meaning is something closer to desire.

The two are not synonymous, however, and often what one lacks is not what one desires.

‘IT is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.’

Not the perfect example because of the qualifier ‘in’, but you get my drift.


The obsession with one’s own condition, with desires over needs, is what fuels the modern world. It is, in effect, emotional capitalism. We are continually encouraged to seek more, look beyond, grab more, take whatever we want. And so we do.

This change in meaning accords with a change in thought processes – and if thought is itself predicated upon, even effected by, language and our usage thereof, then this is the perfect example – where once we would simply have known that which we lack, and either sought to remedy the situation, or simply accept the impossibility of it being made available to us, we now insist on choice.

Except that our society is so hide-bound by rules, by prescription, enveloped in such a colour-by-numbers world, that the faculty of decision-making is denied us. Where once we might have relied on our discretion, now the better part of valour is something else entirely.

Now, we want to eat our cake and have it – oh, and preferably sell it on, too.

When presented with a zero-sum game, we want not only to sit on the fence, but to balance the money, the fame and the girl equally on both knees while we do so.


It seems perfectly typical that where a word used to indicate lack, it now pinpoints greed. Who’d have thought that Mick Jagger would have been so cunning?