Annoying things

This will be my last post on this blog. Due to a mixup with my Google settings, my real name is now linked to the blog, and the blog appears as the top search result. Given that my real name appears to be unique, this means that everyone I sit in a boring meeting with is probably enjoying my more personal thoughts and experiences. Whilst this doesn’t concern me that much – putting anything online is somewhat attention-seeking, so only a fool would never anticipate the downside – it does limit the range of future topics.

I started this blog as a collection of no doubt unoriginal observations about hobbies, work, politics and the purpose of it all, which is the kind of stuff that concerns single 32 year old women working in London, with slightly too much time on their hands. As my situation has changed somewhat, I shall just sign off with a derivative list of all the trivial stuff that results in momentary disappointment in daily life. It’s as dull as all the conversations I’ve ever had at a party. Never mind psychotic terrorists trying to spread their warped world view, or our imminent demise from one kind of haemorrhagic fever or another; it’s running out of toilet paper that really matters to the world.

1. Cafetiere coffee
I’m a coffee snob, of sorts. I don’t care about the beans, their roasting method, or their storage (all that stuff about how you should freshly grind the beans every time you want a cup is for people with housekeepers). In fact, I’m perfectly happy with instant coffee, which always has a pleasingly smooth and inane flavour. I’m not very keen on “Americano”, as it destroys a good espresso, when you could have had an equally nice filter coffee, but the thing I can’t stand is coffee made in a Cafetiere. I just don’t understand why people volunteer to have that disgusting sludge in the bottom of the cup. Never mind how slowly you plunge it (and I have been laughed at for the glacial pressure I apply), the sludge will always find you. Trouble is, it seems awfully rude to point this out, especially if it’s what your in-laws make. So, since I’ll be having it for at least 30 more years, I’d better get used to it.

2. McDonald’s breakfast menu timings
In this country, McDonald’s stops serving their divine sausage and egg mcmuffin, with a hash brown, at 10.30 am. It’s a complete mystery to me: the days on which I really need the fat and starch hit are days after the night before, when in the past I would only have opened a stinging, puffy eye at about 11 am, and dragged my aching body into the shower some time later. Post-children, it’s less of a problem, as I barely drink and get up at 7 every day anyway. So I can indulge in a McDonald’s breakfast when I’ve already been driving somewhere for an hour. In fact, I sometimes deliberately set off early without having breakfast, just so that we can coincidentally stop at the drive-in. I’ve also just read that the company is about to extend into brunch. Hopefully they don’t try to offer salmon and fruit, because that’s the last place I would go for a fancy brunch.

3. Seat reservations on trains
When you buy an advance ticket on the long distance trains in the UK, all train companies require you to make a seat reservation for the booked train. So there you are, getting onto a packed commuter train (“commuting” these days is as far as York to London) with your cut price ticket, booting a season ticket holder out of their seat. Season ticket holders pay £5000 a year to travel half an hour into London every day at rush hour, but can’t reserve a seat. So the people who’ve bought a smaller house to afford the rail fare can end up standing all they way, while a pensioner with no mortgage can swan off to their coffee morning and do the crossword on the way.

4. The bottom line
Companies exist to make a profit. If they are not working towards this as a common, constant goal, they will quite quickly cease to be companies, and either go bust, or perhaps decide to become a charity. So I find it tedious when people deride companies for making profits, even big ones. There is nothing intrinsically immoral about making money, although in most religious traditions poverty is a sort of consolation prize, with your real reward to come in the afterlife etc. What bothers me about company profits is that they are increasingly not linked to productivity or efficiency. Utility companies keep all the surplus they make from the timing of their commodity futures buying, while increasing their customer charges above inflation. International conglomerates funnel all their profits through the country with the lowest tax regime, and deliberately book losses in countries with slightly less favourable tax regimes. So if Starbucks pretends to have made a loss in the UK, they don’t pay taxes. That means the government has less money, so it either raises tax on my income, in which case I can’t afford Starbucks any more, or it cuts services (like childcare) that I then pay for privately if I want them, also meaning I can’t afford Starbucks. So it’s sort of a losing spiral for everyone.
I believe in capitalism, in the sense that it is a system that accepts how self-serving people are, and creates an endless chain of reciprocity that satisfies their need for reward. It’s just that I don’t think it – and the whole principle of supply and demand, competition and price efficiency – will always produce the best result when unleashed on every field of human endeavour. Things that don’t have a direct, measurable relationship between price and profit are unsuitable for free market economics. For example, healthcare; the price of providing it to a population can be measured and quantified easily enough. So politicians are tempted to go for the obvious solution to the cost, and try to reduce it by creating a market, on the basis that it will introduce competition, and therefore simultaneously decrease cost and increase quality. They overlook the fact that artificially creating competition where there were previously teams working together on providing a service, and where there are no real alternatives for the customer (there are no two NHSs), simply takes quality of service into the toilet, and when the difference is life or death, it’s all very different from the freedom to choose your telecoms provider.

5. “Parenting”
Why did “parent” become a verb, and what does this mean? My parents had children, and in my mother’s words, applied benign neglect to us. I remember quite a nice childhood, although there was an unfortunate incident with drain cleaner, and every single picture my mother has on the fridge has me running around the garden naked. She never thought about it that much as far as I can tell; she gave us bananas almost from the start, to make us sleep more, and sherry for teething. She didn’t buy high chairs because she fed us on the floor until we could sit at the table. We basically fitted into our parents lives, and learnt from them, not the other way around. Now it seems like you have to take your one year old’s every cry seriously, as if it is some reflection on the time you went to the loo instead of helping him stack his cups. I thought being a parent was about realising just how little control you have over the various genes, events and personal interpretations that make up a human being; a completely passive role, rather than an active verb.

I suppose I could go on to mention people who drive in the middle lane, tourists who congregate in front of escalators, communists, fascists, racists, the Daily Mail, used car salesmen, hair growth, cancer, the declining quality trash of True Blood, paying £45 for afternoon tea, and mildew. As most people have pretty much the same view of why these things are annoying, I won’t bother.

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