Good Guys and Bad Guys

Over the past few years, I’ve become increasingly aware of the American obsession with “good” and “bad”. It seems to be accepted by all strata that there is such a thing as a good person and a bad person.

There are apparently good cops as well as bad cops. Good protesters as well as bad protesters. Good clerics and bad clerics. There are probably good bank-robbers and bad bank-robbers too. If only there was a simple hand-held test that would show if someone was good or bad – life would be so much easier.

On one occasion, while entering the States during a short period working for a pen-testing company, the immigration officer asked what I did for a living. On learning I was a “cyber-security professional” he said “ah, keeping the bad guys at bay?”

It was absolutely bewildering to me. He really thought it was about bad guys: evil people trying to hurt the good people, purely because bad guys want bad things to happen. No middle ground there.

Then I noticed how many times I hear people on the news – the fucking news – invoke the notion of  “bad guys”.  Because they’re the problem really aren’t they? Why don’t we just put all the bad guys in prison? Wouldn’t that solve all of society’s problems if we simply outlawed bad-guyism?  If we did that, then all that would be left are the good guys. And they’re good!

It’s like living in a really crap cowboy film.

A LabCorp Adventure

Today I had to deliver 3L of my piss to a private company called LabCorp.

Those of you living in civilized countries, where healthcare is all about making people better, rather than making an entire stratum of society rich, will no doubt be confused by why such a circumstance would arise. This is America: if someone can make money out of something, it is enshrined in law that they must do so, even if the “something” is blood, urine or egesta.

But, we get a choice! The specialist’s office asked me which private blood/piss/turd merchants I would prefer to patronise. The choice was really down to how far I wanted to travel with my 24 hours-worth of excreta and so I selected the only nearby franchise: LabCorp.

Since moving to this country I have had cause to visit various LabCorp branches on numerous occasions, usually as the result of company hiring policies that require pissing in a cup. Despite the awkward, and potentially embarrassing situation you find yourself in when attending one of these places, the staff work hard to make the experience as miserable and irritating as possible and let me tell you, they really do go the extra mile. Every “customer” is treated equally: as if they were imbecilic sex-offenders.

So, today at 8am, I wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of entering our local branch with a large specimen. But I needn’t have been concerned because everything was exactly as awful as I’d imagined!

Despite all of the covid precautions invoked by LabCorp, and publicised in countless posters and floor markings, the first thing you encounter in the waiting area is a mandatory touch-screen. Nice one LabCorp! And thanks for the bottle of hand-sanitizer taped to the touchscreen; it’s less safe than soap and water and far less safe than not requiring the use of a touch screen at all. I mean, there’s a window, with staff behind it, and a glass screen in front of it but yes, I understand that in this brave new world, all human interaction that can be removed should be removed.

Not having state ID on me (I don’t drive), I went through the tortuous procedure of typing my name, address, DOB and various other details using the unresponsive on-screen keyboard. It then asked me to scan my insurance card, front and back. Next, I was informed that I owed LabCorp $25 for previous services and offered the convenient opportunity to pay now with a credit card, which I politely declined. Finally, I was shown a summary of my details which, with a cursory examination, appeared to be correct, and was then invited to sit down and wait to be called. So, with a generous squirt of hand-sanitzer in one hand, and a big bottle of piss in the other, I sat down.

After a couple of minutes, a lady behind the aforementioned glass screen, started trying to attract my attention by yelling:
“Sir! Sir! Are you here for bloodwork?”

“No.” I answered truthfully.

“Well you have to wait outside. Because of covid. We can only have people who are having bloodwork done in here.”

Odd, I thought, but apologized and began walking towards the door. Before reaching it, another customer called out to me, pointing out that I probably was having something done. Oh. So I went to the window to make sure that I hadn’t got the wrong end of the stick.

“You’re here to have something done?” asked the lady behind the glass.

“Yes!” I said looking bewildered. I mean, why the fuck else would I be there at all, let alone at 8 in the morning and carrying a 3L bottle of piss.

“Well you have to sign in on the tablet!” she yelled.

“I did!” I yelled back.

“Well you’re not in the system!”

“I just did! I did it!”

“What’s your name?”
I gave my name.

“No, you’re not here. You have to sign in and choose ‘Drop off'”.

“I just signed in!” I protested. The lady responded by flouncing out of the room behind the glass and into the back. Now what? Was she going to ask for help with the tablet? I decided to wait and see.
After about 5 minutes of waiting by the glass, she returned to the back room and sat at her desk, avoiding eye contact with me. So yeah, she hadn’t been seeking assistance, just fucking off out the back until she thought I may give up and leave. With my piss.
“So! Should I try to sign in again?” I asked. She ignored me.

“Should I sign in again?” I persisted.

“YES!” she yelled back, in semi fury.

“Will it work this time?”

“YES! And choose ‘drop off’!”

So, I went through the tortuous procedure of typing in my details all over again. I scanned my insurance card again. I declined payment again. I confirmed the details were correct again. At no point was I asked about why I was there. Finally, I was told to take my seat and wait again.

“I’ve done it, but there was no option to select ‘Drop off’!” I called.
She glared at me with incredulity and fury before getting up and stomping towards the intervening door while angrily pulling on some rubber gloves (there’s no way she was going to deal with an unhygienic touch screen without rubber gloves).

She angrily prompted me to repeat, for the third time, the touch-screen procedure. At every screen, she angrily told me to click “Next” just before I clicked it. Until we came to the final screen, that told me to sit down and wait to be called, at which point her mood completely changed; confronted, as she was, by some evidence that I wasn’t a belligerent fucking moron.

I had to resist the urge to launch forth with a barrage of smug sarcasm, or questions about how embarrassed she was feeling.

She took the print-out of my details I’d been provided by my specialist and went through the procedure again, very sheepishly. This time, she stopped at the “would you like to settle out outstanding invoice” prompt.
“Ah, you have to pay this, ” she said politely. “That’s why it didn’t work.”
Oh really? I paid it.
This time a new prompt appeared which allowed me to select “drop off”.

Now, at this point, let’s consider the technical aspect of the touch screen software. I chose not to pay an outstanding invoice (there is a legit reason for this that you really don’t want to be bothered with), at which point it let me confirm my details and told me to sit down and wait to be called. If I hadn’t had the interaction with the charming assistant, I’d be sitting there still. Because it didn’t pass my meticulously entered details onto the staff! Did their QA engineers not spot this bug? There was a choice between paying LabCorp some money, or being told to sit and wait for something that would never happen.

Anyway, I had passed the challenge. My details were entered.
“So what now?” I asked.
“Go out the back and leave it on the table in the room with the green curtain.”

Wait – so after all of this, I’m just putting it on a table? Together with the document I was given by the specialist which contains all of the details I had repeatedly entered into the disease vector and an explanation of the test expected? Why yes. It’s almost as if the whole thing was a complete waste of everyone’s time.

So LabCorp, here are some action points for you:

  1. Fix your software so that it’s not buggy and unpleasant to use. If you need some help, let me know and I’ll put you in touch with some software companies that actually know what they’re doing.
  2. Why not try not using a dirty-ass touch screen at all and instead employ a human to just take people’s details.
  3. Consider a new approach when training your staff. Maybe transition away from the prison-officer training, and more towards, I don’t know, customer-service perhaps? Think outside the box.

Don’t Do It Yourself

A friend, and a friend of my wife, managed to persuade me to have a crack at fixing our broken dishwasher rather than just fork-out the stupid amount of money required for a new one.

This all happened on Facebook of course.

This all happened when I’d had a few drinks of course.

This was my debrief:

Right, you bastards, the dishwasher is fixed. I have you to thank for encouraging me to try and fix it myself. I fixed the fucker…but it bloody nearly killed me in the process. I said I’d keep you appraised of the progress and so this is your punishment.

The $130 pump arrived and, in a fit of optimistic excitement, I rushed home whilst watching the clear and concise video that explains how to fit the part. I watched it enough times that I had every detail memorized and so with excitement I assembled tools and attacked the machine (power off at the circuit breaker).

There were several things they omitted to describe in the video. The main ones were:

1> The state of the floor under the dishwasher.

2> The state of the cupboard containing the water feed and the waste pipe.

3> The fact that the person who made the holes for the water pipe and waste pipe could well have been a lunatic.

4> You would have to lie on the floor to detach the water pipe and disconnect the electricity through a two inch gap at the base of the machine.

5> Water, water everywhere. Where does it all come from?

So, I spent a while lying on the floor of the kitchen, in a bizarrely large pool of water, trying to undo things though a tiny gap that the spanner and screwdriver were unable to work with no matter what angles I managed to force them into.

Meanwhile, the piles and piles of mouse shit that had built up underneath the dishwasher were liberated by the extraordinary amount of water that was mysteriously present, and turned the puddle I was lying in, into shit soup. But I persisted.

Oh yes, it was in the 90’s that day, and the A/C unit in the front room was not helping.

After an exhausting and humiliating amount of time lying in the soup-du-merde with sweat pouring down my face, I eventually got the machine out, replaced the pump, hoovered up as much mouse shit as I could, replaced the machine, replaced the water supply, replaced the waste pipe, and reconnected the juice – every action taking 3 times as long as it should have done because of fucking dishwasher/foor topology. I was soaked in a variety of unpleasant fluids, exhausted, in pain, but at least I’d replaced the part. I turned the juice back on, turned on the stop cock and started the machine… water ran in but the noise was different.

I settled back into the shit soup and shone a flashlight underneath my nemesis. Water was leaking out from the back of the machine.

There was a lot of screaming and swearing. After pumping out the machine and disabling it, I took a shower/hair-wash, replaced my clothes and sat in the front room shivering with horror, rage and humiliation.At that point I decided that for the rest of my life, I wanted nothing but enough money to make sure I NEVER have to deal with a broken dishwasher ever again. It was trauma.

To cut an already long story short, a week later I decided to have another crack at it, with the idea that a failure would give me the opportunity to destroy the beast in an unnecessarily vicious and humiliating way. But this time it worked. I think I’d put the pump in the wrong way round or something last time. It all seems to be working now.

Despite the aggro, I spent less on the spare part that I would have done on the installation of a new machine alone, so it ain’t all bad.

The ‘B’ and ‘P’ words

"Are there any classes you're struggling with?" - "The bourgeoisie"It’s a word I hadn’t used, or considered using, before a few years ago. It usually only turned up on TV when people were taking the piss out of lefties, or when actual lefties talked to me about politics. Frankly, being ill-read, I didn’t really know what people meant by it. This seemed problematic for a word that is generally used as an insult, but now it all makes sense. The people being insulted can’t possibly understand what it means, nor are they meant to; they’re almost certainly not part of the conversation. Anyone who understands it will know what it means, why it is insulting, and why they are using it to describe Adam, Toby, or whoever is being discussed.
Coincidentally it was another ‘B’ word that led me to this enlightenment: Brexit.

The Brexit vote happened during my time in the U.S. of Arse, far away for the raw heat of the societal tear which caused the eruption of red hot fury to launch forth from beneath. It was bizarre to observe. There were three main factions:

  1. Ignorant racists.
  2. Anti capitalists.
  3. Bourgeois people who were concerned about the effect of the price of Camembert, retirement opportunities in Spain and the availability of cheap plumbers.

It turns out that the majority of my friends are number 3. I used to think they were lefties. No. What they are is the archetype of bourgeois.

As the UK was being carefully separated into rich and poor by the ancient ruling elites, all anyone I knew was complaining about was fucking Brexit. The NHS had been whittled away for the last 30 years, and the welfare state was unusably fucked, leading to the mass homelessness, suicides, dependence on foodbanks, and deaths as a result.
Meanwhile, the neoliberal bourgeois masses were protesting: about the UK not being part of the European trading gang-bang. They whined about how difficult it would be to import and export goods from the Europe, as if they had ever had first hand experience of doing it before or since the existence of the EU.
They sought solace in speeches from knights of the center right like Michael Heseltine, Kenneth Clarke and John Twatting Major.

Then the election came.

Pressure from the bourgeois activists led the only left-wing party, Labour, to shift its policy to supporting a second referendum

Boom. Overnight they lost factions 1 and 2 (see above) Obviously faction 1 can fuck off (despite consisting of a large and misguided section of the population)… but faction 2 was underestimated. Labour got more votes than ever before. But not enough to win.

In the smoking remains of the aftermath, things look clearer to everyone who lost.

The bourgeoisie see that the fault is with me and my selfish desire to fix the NHS and public spending. Why was I so “hard left”? Why couldn’t I be more…


The word “pragmatic” is a shibboleth among the bourgeoisie and is code for shifting further right. They believe there is a large body of ignorant right-wing people who need to be appeased. And they’re right: themselves!

The opposite of “pragmatism” is “ideology” which has now become associated with lunacy: at least the current leaders are using lubricant!  If we don’t keep voting for them we’ll get people who want to go in raw.

The canonical example of “pragmatism” is a quote from Mr Tony Blair which sums up the problem precisely in one of his famous soundbites:

“Power without principle is barren, but principle without power is futile.”

The bourgeoisie see this as not only reasonable, but obviously reasonable. If they were reading this blog post they genuinely wouldn’t understand why anyone would disagree.

Douglas Adams perfectly summed up this paradox in the fourth book of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy trilogy.

The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people.”
“Odd,” said Arthur, “I thought you said it was a democracy.”
“I did,” said Ford. “It is.”
“So,” said Arthur, hoping he wasn’t sounding ridiculously obtuse, “why don’t people get rid of the lizards?”
“It honestly doesn’t occur to them,” said Ford. “They’ve all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they’ve voted in more or less approximates to the government they want.”
“You mean they actually vote for the lizards?”
“Oh yes,” said Ford with a shrug, “of course.”
“But,” said Arthur, going for the big one again, “why?”
“Because if they didn’t vote for a lizard,” said Ford, “the wrong lizard might get in. Got any gin?”

The bourgeoisie regard ideologues as the enemies of liberal democracy… which they bloody well should be even if they aren’t. If, even when confronted by all of the evidence, you still believe in liberal democracy, then you are lost.

Don’t tense up, just try to enjoy it.

The 2019 Night at the Boozer

The “Night down the pub” has been a very important part of my life since the age of about 2. So here is a random sample from 2019:

Head down the Union Tap House with a fully charged phone and a brand new copy of Private Eye so that I can enjoy a quality beer [yes, singular] whilst reading.

On arrival, I see that the only person at the bar is Irish Paul and a voice in the back of my head suggests that I may end up having an extra half-pint on top of my target pint.

Paul and I chat with each other and Claudia behind the bar. It is the traditional sort of chat involving calling each other “cunts” and giggling.
We were joined by Lindsey (who was kind enough to reunite me with my long lost umbrella), Steve (who forgot to call me “your Lordship”) and Quizmaster Justin. The evening progressed in typical pub “bullshit and giggles” style. Sal and Bill joined Claudia behind the bar, forming the service dream-team. Paul and Lindsey introduced us to Mike and Lindsey before departing for home. I followed on shortly afterwards, which allowed me to only inflict my personality on Over-the-Road-Alex for a few minutes. It’s not fair that he should have to deal with that much Englishness before a pub-quiz.

One of the best parts about going to the Union is that I have to walk up a bastard of a hill to get home…unless I insult the planet by ordering a Lyft. But I didn’t do that. The walk cancels out any negative health effects accrued by spending several hours drinking and eating deep-fried pretzel bites and that is why I’m a picture of slender health.

Finally, as if things could get any better, I get to hang out at home with M and the birds while eating a superb pasta-chicken dish and watching comical British telly.

Note to future self: see – it was good!

Wrong is Right

Tonight I ended up watching a film (“movie” for my Merkin friends) starring Sean Connery, from 1982, that predicted the whole “War on Terror” including the World Trade Center bombing. You’d have thought that such a significant film, starring a huge movie star like Connery, would be well known by everyone. But if you’ve even heard of it you’re in the minority and if you’ve actually seen it then…well we’ve never met at least.
It’s called “Wrong is Right” – or for us that grew up outside of the US it was rebranded as “The Man with the Deadly Lens” (they thought Bondifying it would make it popular). Currently on Huflix Prime or whatever. Satire. Worth the whole 2 hours for the final, final scene.


The Science of Astrology

Sometimes people you like can surprise you by veering off the path so much you start to wonder why you’re even talking to them. A pleasant friendship can be immediately soured for me by my friend explaining why they believe all Indian people are rude, or why Enoch Powell was actually a very clever man who was simply misunderstood, or why Donald Chump is actually a great president…

On a totally different topic, today at work during our traditional lunch discussion, everyone at the table outed themselves as keen enthusiasts of astrology. One minute we were all chatting enjoyably about some bullshit or other, the next it was all “sun signs”, “moon signs” and “rising signs”. I learned that if you don’t take into account the exact time you were born then the signs won’t be right! Imagine! You could all be discussing things that aren’t true! Without the correct birth date and time the whole thing would simply be a meaningless load of old wank.

After biting my tongue for as long as I could, it all became too much of a burden to hold in and so I exploded in angry sarcasm.

After my rant had petered out there was only one comment: “you’re only saying that because you’re an Aries.”

How did he know? Oh bloody hell, it’s all true after all.

The Miracle of Air Travel

Some people do this multiple times a week, and do it for years. Perhaps having everything on expenses moderates the pain? Maybe after a while having to partially strip off and participate in the security theatre starts to feel no more undignified and annoying than paying a bus fare. But for me it still feels like the rehearsal for the inevitable Iron Heel style dictatorship that is currently being implemented. These changes don’t happen overnight. Much like roadworks; they can take so long that you forget what it was like before the cones and diggers were part of the landscape.

But this is now, and we are currently only in the advanced stages of capitalism. Also, I’m white which means I’ll get a longer stay of execution before they discover my thoughtcrimes.

Advanced capitalism provides minor annoyances, a bundle of which have been getting on my tits today. For example, I bought a flight with British Airways and only today I discovered that it will actually be an American Airlines flight. Many years ago they used to try this on in London: you bought a train ticket and they led you out the other side of the station and onto a bus that said “rail replacement service”. I never fell for this though, and instead would go back to the ticket office and ask if they were taking the piss. Usually they would give a defeated “doh” sound and refund my ticket, at which point I’d go and get a bus that only cost a bus fair and didn’t take me on a surreal “train line on roads” route.

But you can’t do that with air travel. You just have to suck it up.

The increasingly baffling necessity of “on-line check-in” has also been “improved”. The seat selection process has been converted into overt extortion: you get shown the worst seat on the plane and told that it’s yours unless you cough up $100. If you’re flying as a couple or group, the seats are deliberately set far apart as an “enticement” to pay. There was also a weird bug that result in them trying to make me pay to check my single bag!

So arriving at the airport I approached the American Airways attendant with the intention of dropping off my bag and heading over to security hell. But instead of a lovely fake smile and a greeting, all that the attendant was willing to offer was a weary, dismissive instruction that I need to check my bag in “over there” before approaching her majesty.
Being a good citizen I complied, and did battle with a user interface that was as well designed as it was functional. After it failed to read my passport for about 10 minutes it asked me the same set of questions as the BA staff used to ask and printed my baggage ticket, only it too asked me for 60 fucking bucks to check my bag. So that wasn’t a bug in the check-in software after all. I check with the humans at the desk whether this was correct. “If you want to argue about it you can…” she started. “I don’t want to argue about it,” I interrupted, ” I was just checking.” It’s almost as if she was used to dealing with customers who wanted to argue about it. Already my brain had run down the path of planning my revenge, but that would be later. I returned to the digital extortion machine and gave it my credit card. It cheerfully responded by printing my baggage token along with instructions on how to attach it to my bag (something BA staff used to do for you). But with this token at least I would be granted an audience with the human!. I excitedly approached her with my bag and sticker. She observed me faffing about with the long, ungainly, sticky, token and offered some advice on how to correctly apply it to my bag without casualty. Once the token was attached and my bag was on the conveyor-belt she told me I was free to waste my time with the dignity removal service offered by the TSA.
Clearly the whole idea of adding another layer of bureaucracy was based upon the good capitalist ideal of removing unnecessary labour by replacing it with “smart machines”… much like the self checkouts in Supermarkets. And as with the self checkouts they simply cost a great deal more money to do the same job, and the staff numbers stay the same but the staff are relegated to working around the problems created by the crap programming, rather than actually being human and helping people. That’s progress.

In the old days you would take your passport, ticket and bags to a human who would swiftly and professionally check them, register you and accept your bags. Now you have to endure a flaky on-line check-in that frequently involves not being able to process payments and forces you to retype all your details in multiple times (normal humans don’t possess the handy passport reading tools available to the check-in staff and so have to type the whole lot in by hand, leading to inevitable transcription errors). After the on-line check-in you need to go through more digital persecution by another badly designed piece of hardware at the airport, and then need to go to a member of staff who essentially acts as tech support for the machines and bag-straightener on the conveyor belt.

After my vacation, the time to check-in arrived again. Despite my anger at having to cough up another 60 bucks to take my bag back home, I resolved to pay up front, on-line so as to make the boarding experience less painful. But I had forgotten the golden rule:

Everything is bollocks and nothing works properly

I tried a British credit card, an American debit card, and PayPal, with the poxy BA check-in software and none worked. Each time I was kicked back to the start of the process and had to reenter all of my details including passport and green-card number by hand from scratch. Eventually I gave up and accepted the seat assignment of 42E (middle seat in the middle column, at the back of the plane next to a man that was unfamiliar with the concept of soap. It didn’t actually say that last bit at the time, it just turned out that way.) This time I was going to be arsey.

After a particularly good cab ride with a driver as optimistic about the future of society as I was, I arrived at the BA desk and went straight for a human. I told the lady that about the failed payment attempts, the crappy software and then remarked at how bloody outrageous it was to have to pay to check a single bag on a transatlantic flight. Her response was not what I expected. She started to give me the company line, with odd interjections of the form “I’m not saying I agree…”. But as she talked she became increasingly agitated with what she was saying and eventually switched to “what do I care? I’m leaving soon! We all are. BA have lost the plot! Haven’t they?” she asked her colleague, who nodded in woeful agreement. At this point I genuinely felt like she had more to be bitter about than us passengers and so let her take my money and went on my way, resolving to get my money back in the form of free drink on the ride back. I managed it too.

Funny old world

Thirty years ago or so there was a very dramatic evening involving a bunch of teenagers who decided to explain to the victim of a Lothario that he wasn’t going to be her Mr Right. This is the kind of thing that happens when teenagers get drunk together. To us, and especially to the victim, this was a very fucking dramatic night. There were tears. There was screaming. There were feelings of distrust with the universe. There was a long walk through a local park after all the booze was gone to help cool off. Most of all there was a message scrawled on the bathroom mirror in toothpaste that read “funny old night”. This summed up the situation in more ways than the author knew…perhaps.

Since this, in my early youth, there have been countless examples of dramatic and disturbing events that range from domestic arguments to the election of a mentally disabled fascist. Whenever something like this happens, all I can think of is that toothpaste graffiti on the mirror: “funny old night”. Nowadays my brain changes it to “funny old world” because that is more accurate.

Ten Word Film Reviews: Part One

For those occasions that I actually sit and watch films: some reviews as memory joggers.

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Visually stunning, entirely appropriate sequel. A bit pretentious in places.

Lady Bird (2017)

Great acting; fun if you like catholic school stuff. Yawn.

The IPCRESS file (1965)

Essential fodder for spy movie buffs. Brilliant, gripping. Still cool.

8½ (1963)

Worth it for the opening scene alone. Weird and beautiful.

The Trial (1962)

Fantastic and accurate rendition of the book, without the tedium.