Whatever Happened To The Leisure Society?

Image

Why are we drowning in paperwork in the digital age?

[EDIT:  I’ve made this post sticky, as this topic is back in the news again!  Mostly since Oxford university researchers announced that over 40% of jobs will be taken by robots soon . It’ll be interesting to see what really does happen, whether (as I suspect), people will just be kept busy doing ever more ludicrous tasks.]

In the early 70s, perhaps catalyzed by LSD or Marxism (or possibly both), academics in the humanities very briefly experienced a mini enlightenment.  One of the most enlightening articles from this era, which I would recommend anyone read – if only the first couple of paragraphs – is Marshal Sahlin’s The Original Affluent Society.

 

In The Original Affluent Society, Sahlins explains that contemporary (ie-1966) hunter-gatherers like the Kalahari Bushmen or Inuits spend on average three hours a day working. Yet they live in some of the most inhospitable places on earth. Imagine how easy it must have been for stone-age hunter-gatherers living in temperate parts of Europe or America to survive. Their surroundings were so abundant they could procure everything completely for free from nature’s larder within minutes of their doorsteps – if they indeed had doors. They also had the knowledge to just go out and make anything they wanted – again completely free and gratis, using their extensive knowledge of the environment. This is why it’s a good idea to remain skeptical about the development agenda. If a person is “surviving on $1 a day in Africa”, it might actually mean they are actually rather well-off. Introducing waged labour and that economists’ pet obsession, property rights, to these communities turns them from being the most affluent people on earth into the poorest overnight. Way to go economists.

 

So, what does this have to do with us? Well, if you’re like me, you’ll have noticed: hold on a minute – three hours a day? In the arctic? WTF are we doing here in the West? We have the mechanisation of agriculture, digitisation of just about everything and roboticisation. Yet we humans are working more and more hours. We work 40 hours a week – probably around 4 times the amount of our paleolithic forebears. Something, somewhere has gone horribly wrong. We should be living in some kind of utopia where everybody is drinking drinks with umbrellas while robot slaves do our housework. What happened? Why do we live in such an inefficient society? Especially when capitalism claims to be so big on efficiency?

 

Unfortunately, the answer to this has been known for over ages. Herbert Marcuse predicted in 1956:

“the closer the real possibility of liberating the individual from the constraints once justified by scarcity and immaturity, the greater the need for maintaining and streamlining these constraints lest the established order of domination dissolve. Civilisation has to defend itself against the specter of a world which could be free. If society cannot use its growing productivity for reducing repression (because such usage would upset the hierarchy of the status quo), productivity must be turned against the individuals, it becomes itself an instrument of universal control.”

Marcuse, Eros and Civilization

 

Which, in a nutshell means: Capitalism wants to keep people busy. People must keep working to live and living to work, otherwise society will start – gulp – thinking for itself.

 

Those of you long enough in the tooth to remember the 70s might remember that Marcuse’s predictions about productivity had started to become a reality. Human labour capacity was outstripping demand and a “leisure society” was inevitable. There was talk of a three day working week and the question was posed: what are we going to do with all our free time? Freed from the shackles of employment, humanity would reach a new era of unprecedented creativity. People could live in tipis in Wales while robots and computers did all the human work. It was going to be like Woodstock every day. But with robots. Of course, all western governments realised this was terrible news for them. How can a Labour party survive with no workers? And how can right-wingers and Liberals survive with no consumers? Luckily for them, they had a solution: Bureaucracy.

 

Keep people busy at all costs. Introduce audits and targets and league tables and managers at all levels in the nationalised industries. Make them feel indispensable. Devise outreach schemes and health and safety drives and equal opportunity commissions; make sure that these new jobs are promoting equality and diversity, then any left-leaning person will be unable to question them. Make the public sector one huge, teetering bureaucracy where everybody feels they are helping society. Even though all society really needs is a few nurses, teachers and possibly policemen. If this bureaucracy idea is implemented, we can ensure that all people will be kept:

a. Too busy to change the status quo

b. Dependent on the state

Which is what happened. Ask any teacher, nurse, doctor, policeman, lecturer or social worker about their job and they will all, without exception, tell you that is blighted by inordinate amounts of pointless paperwork. The drop-out rate of new teachers is approaching 50%. A large proportion of them cite overwork as the cause. They are even talking of scrapping the long summer holidays, so it must be bad. Tenured university lecturers in the UK have to spend over half their working week on paperwork instead of doing new research or teaching students. Nurses and doctors spend as much time reporting on what they have just done as doing it.

 

The Protestant work ethic is so embedded in Anglo-American society that everyone from the unemployed demanding the “right to work” to the super-rich who do internships instead of just whatever the fuck they like all day are all in it together. The drudgery of wage slavery is the only way to feel fulfilled in our society. The long-term unemployed become suicidal. We are urged to detest those on Benefits Street because they are refusing to play along with the game.

 

The fact of the matter is that our society only really needs a two or three day working week. The other two and a half days create the surplus value which feeds capitalism by creating the consumer society. If people had those extra two and a half days, they might start their own businesses and compete with large scale capitalism by owning the means of production. ‘Owning the means of production’… of course, all this Marxist language sounds hideously old-fashioned to us now. It may be outdated, boring, passé, but let’s face it: It’s bang on the money, right?

 

Advertisements

Top Five Fairytale Destinations, Europe Style

Anyone who’s ever read a Terry Pratchett, JRR Tolkien, or JK Rowling (before she went all bleeding-heart-pinko and grown up on us) has fantasized about traipsing through misty snowcapped mountains and enchanted forests, encountering endearing local folk and mythical creatures and being held captive in imposing, multi-towered castles (or if it floats your boat – a boarding school).

The good news is, all this can be easily found in Europe if you know where to look (except for the mythical creatures). Here are my top 5 Fairytale destinations, Europe style…

5. Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany

Nestled in the Bavarian Alps and built by Mad King Ludwig, Neuschwannstein is the epitome of camp Fairytale kitsch.  It was inspired by the castles of the Loire Valley and in turn became the inspiration for Disney’s ‘when you wish upon an star’ castle.

If you can stand the hoards of Japanese tourists and eye-watering parking fees, it makes a nice day trip from Munich.  While you’re here, you can stop by at Hitler’s secret mountain lair at Berchtesgaden for a spot of ghoulish Boy’s Own-style sight-seeing.

The castle is currently undergoing renovation and its fairytale factor is therefore slightly diminished by it being entirely covered in scaffolding.  Hence its position at number 5.

4. Bialowieza Forest, Poland/Belarus

Welcome to the dark heart of Eastern Europe.  If those magical creatures were discovered to exist after all, it’d almost certainly be here.  Bialowieza is the  largest primeval  forest in Europe and home to bison, bears and wolves. Travel advice: if you see a house made of gingerbread, probably best to avoid.

3. Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland

More like something out of Discworld than Northern Ireland, the Giant’s Causeway is a… erm… giant causeway in Northern Ireland.  The crashing waves of the tempestuous Irish sea are vaguely reminiscent of the lighthouse scene in Harry Potter 1.

Likelihood of actually seeing a giant is slim, but after a few Jameson’s, who knows. If all the Caspar David Friedrich-esque Romanticism gets a bit much, for a light-hearted add-on, you can do the open top bus tour of the Falls and Shankill Roads in Belfast and wave at the chavs sitting outside Rangers and Celtic Supporters’ pubs.

2. Tintagel, Cornwall, England

Did King Arthur and Merlin and Gwynevere really live here?  Is this where Arthur pulled the sword from the stone?  Did he rule his Kingdom wisely with a proto-democratic round table on this rocky outcrop in Cornwall?  Probably not, but it makes a nice excuse for the locals to open crystal shops and sell homeopathic remedies in ‘Merlin’s Tea Rooms’ and ‘King Arthur’s convenience store’, so who cares?

1. Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

Anyone who feels himself to be imbued with the Elfish gene…  Anyone who ever applied to go on Knightmare…   Anyone who has ever lost his girlfriend, job and flat due to their addiction to World of Warcraft (it happened to my friend’s brother)…  Anyone who knows what The Gathering is…   will like it here. And just about anyone else, to be honest.  It’s a lovely little town in Southern Czech Republic that just screams “Hobbit!”.  It’s great. Good beer, too.

A Road Trip From Heaven: Europe in 5 weeks

The route:

Bavaria – Austrian Lakes – Slovenian Alps – Ljubjana – Zagreb – Istrian Peninsular (Croatia) – Venice – Verona – French Alps – Aix En Provence – Avignon – Languedoc – Pyrenees – Bilbao – San Sebastian – Dordogne – Rhone Valley – Brittany – Normandy – UK.

Here are some of the best snaps I took en route with my phone.

The Konigsee, Bavarian Alps, Germany

October 2011 iphonebackup 1002

Hitler’s mountain lair, the ‘Eagles Nest’ at Bertchesgaden, Germany

October 2011 iphonebackup 1051

Kobarid, Slovenia

527296_10151245981026280_1221741620_n

Dragon Bridge, Ljubjana, Slovenia

54956_10151246000146280_1243349326_o

Gondola Drivers, Venice, Italy

IMG_2038

The Cathedral Cloisters, Verona, Italy

617073_10151245987241280_1169117897_o

Pope’s Castle at Avignon, France

IMG_2062

Carcassonne, France by night

176142_10151245991476280_1105914196_o

The Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao

192415_10151245992886280_531385352_o

The destroyed village of Oradour, France

IMG_2087

Mont St Michel, Normandy, France

IMG_2144

Here Be Hipsters: A Stroll Through Kreuzkölln, Berlin.

2014-10-28 14.37.19

Apply instagram filters here.

The Maybachufer Fleamarket.  All your mid-century formica needs are met here.

The Maybachufer market. All your mid-century formica and post-ironic shell suit needs are met here.

2014-10-28 15.03.43

Gentrification: Replace real graffiti with hipster graffiti. Flush out urban dwellers through rent hikes. Sell “urban” shoes to newcomers.

Have your photo taken in an old black and white photo machine.   Because Instagram is soooo 2013.

Have your photo taken in an old black and white photo machine. Because vintage.

Pavement cafe.  Pretty self-explanatory, really.

Graffiti? Check. Ethnic passers-by? Check. Fritz Kola? Check. Here shall be my office for the day!

Vintage coffee?  What the actual?

Not sure which is worse:  The idea that coffee can be ‘vintage’, that salad is now classed as ‘raw’, or that the entire shop front is in English.

Come, marvel at the bonkers Turkish tat.

Come, marvel at the bonkers Turkish tat.

Getting Away From It All in Suffolk (Pictures)

The beach huts at Southwold

 

If you’re looking for day trip ideas from London, the Suffolk coast provides a little bit of olde England, just an hour or so by car or train. The charming resorts of Southwold and Aldeburgh transport you back in time to bucket and spade holidays of the 1950s, with their easy-going atmosphere, locally-sourced food and superlative fish and chip cafes. The Suffolk coast makes an up-market and far more peaceful alternative to the likes of Brighton and allows you to really feel like you’ve got away from it all.

Here are some iphone snaps I took on a recent Redpig road trip. A long weekend was ample time to recharge the batteries, sample the local cuisine and seek out a few ‘secret’ beaches.

 

The fishermen return with their catch at Aldeburgh

The fishermen return with their catch at Aldeburgh

The Medieval church becomes a farmhouse at Leiston Abbey

The Medieval church becomes a farmhouse at Leiston Abbey

Leiston Abbey: Used to be a monastery, is now a music school

Leiston Abbey: Used to be a monastery, is now a music school

The 'secret' beach at Covehithe

The ‘secret’ beach at Covehithe

The woods at Covehithe

The woods at Covehithe

Even as a vegetarian, I have to say these pigs look pretty content with their lot

Even as a vegetarian, I have to say these free range pigs look pretty content with their lot!

Southwold pier and us!

Southwold pier and us!

After sunset, the best entertainment is to head to the beach for candle-lit drinks!

After sunset, the best entertainment is to head to the beach for candle-lit drinks!

Photos From The Real Royston Vasey

On a recent trip to the Peak District, I stopped by Hadfield, the location for Royston Vasey in the TV series The League of Gentlemen.  I didn’t see Tubbs and Edward, unfortunately, but I did see a Daily Mail branded newsagents wishing us Merry Christmas and a surprisingly sexy pie advert.  Also good to know British Rail still run there, as I could have sworn it was privatised in 1993.

ImageImageImageImage

 

ImageImageImageImage

European Roadtrip #3: Travels in a Red Pig

In March this year, my husband and I drove down to Italy in our camper van (the van is affectionately known as The Red Pig).  We saw bits of France and Belgium on the way there and back.  As you can see, the weather was pleasant most of the time, and lots of places were completely deserted.

Going out of season was great, as it cut out queues at nearly all the museums.  It also allowed us to pull up and snooze in the van more or less wherever we liked.  Below are some iPhone snaps I took en route.

 

The city walls at Boulogne Sur Mer

The city walls at Boulogne Sur Mer

Tournus, Burgundy

Tournus, Burgundy

The banks of the Saone, Burgundy at sunrise

The banks of the Saone, Burgundy at sunrise

The Ardeche gorge, central France

The Ardeche gorge, central France

The picturesque Provencale village of  Gordes

The picturesque Provencale village of Gordes

Lavender fields in Provence

Lavender fields in Provence

The Verdon Gorge

The Verdon Gorge

Lac de Saine Croix, Verdon Gorge, France

Lac de Saine Croix, Verdon Gorge, France

A bit of the old vin rouge

A bit of the old vin rouge

The Verdon Gorge

The Verdon Gorge

It was a bit chilly at that altitude

It was a bit chilly at that altitude

Alpine villages in the Alpes Maritimes

Alpine villages in the Alpes Maritimes

Overlooking Antibes in the French Riviera

Overlooking Antibes in the French Riviera

If you can't afford a yacht, you can always walk around the port in a stripy jumper instead!

If you can’t afford a yacht, you can always walk around the port in a stripy jumper instead!

Villefranche Sur Mer from above

Villefranche Sur Mer from above

 

 

The aptly named Beaulieu (trans = beautiful place)

The aptly named Beaulieu (trans = beautiful place)

Dolceacqua, Liguria

Dolceacqua, Liguria

The benefits of travelling out of season - Beachside sleeping spot in Cinque Terra

The benefits of travelling out of season – Beachside sleeping spot in Cinque Terra

One of the ports of the Cinque Terra, Italy

One of the ports of the Cinque Terra, Italy

The pretty streets of Cinque Terra

The pretty streets of Cinque Terra

Some flowers and me!

Some flowers and me!

The Etruscan tombs of Tarquinia

The Etruscan tombs of Tarquinia

Rome

Rome

The Vatican

The Vatican

The Pantheon - Europe's oldest church

The Pantheon – Europe’s oldest church

Beautiful Piazza Navona

Beautiful Piazza Navona

Inside the Vatican

Inside the Vatican

Inside the Vatican again

Inside the Vatican again

Monte Cassino - another WW2 battlefield

Monte Cassino – another WW2 battlefield

The view from Monte Cassino

The view from Monte Cassino

The deserted beaches around Baia Domizia, near Naples

The deserted beaches around Baia Domizia, near Naples

The Redpig sees Capri, but mercifully doesn't die

The Redpig sees Capri, but mercifully doesn’t die

The Amalfi coast

The Amalfi coast

The Ancient Greek colony of Paestum, Campania

The Ancient Greek colony of Paestum, Campania

The beaches at Salerno.  WW2  happened here, apparently

The beaches at Salerno. WW2 happened here, apparently

The Redpig chillin on the beach

The Redpig chillin on the beach

Yet more deserted beaches.  Italians don't favour beaches in winter, it seems

Yet more deserted beaches. Italians don’t favour beaches in winter, it seems

Yet more beautiful deserted beaches

Yet more beautiful deserted beaches

Assisi, home to St Francis and St Clare

Assisi, home to St Francis and St Clare

The view from Assisi

The view from Assisi

Kids play football in the square outside the church of Santa Chiara, Assisi

Kids play football in the square outside the church of Santa Chiara, Assisi

Chasing the route of Hannibal's  Elephants at Lake Trasimeno

Chasing the route of Hannibal’s Elephants at Lake Trasimeno

 

Chianti, formaggio and focaccia in Tuscany.  Basically, heaven.

Chianti, formaggio and focaccia in Tuscany. Basically, heaven.

 

Florence by night

Florence by night

 

...and day

…and day

 

Lake Annecy.  When I retire, just drop me here, please

Lake Annecy. When I retire, just drop me here, please

 

The town of Annecy.  Check out how clear the water is

The town of Annecy. Check out how clear the water is

 

The fort at Verdun, a site of WW1 stuff

The fort at Verdun, a site of WW1 stuff

 

Trenches at Vimy Ridge

Trenches at Vimy Ridge

 

Beautiful Bergues

Beautiful Bergues

 

If you've seen the film, Bienvenue Chez Les Ch'tis, you'll know why this is pure comedy gold.

If you’ve seen the film, Bienvenue Chez Les Ch’tis, you’ll know why this is pure comedy gold.

 

Yet more proof that Nord Pas De Calais has at least some refinement

Yet more proof that Nord Pas De Calais has at least some refinement


The Best Time To Visit Europe

September and May have always been my favourite time to visit the Mediterranean, as scrambling over Roman ruins, drinking red wine, sunbathing – all the good stuff – are clearly best done without fear of heatstroke.  It’s also well-known that August is the worst time to visit Europe, as many cities such as Paris and Madrid effectively close down.  On top of that, you have the school summer holidays calendar which means just about everywhere with a patch of grass from St Petersburg to Dublin will be mobbed by screaming kids.  Don’t even think about visiting an open-air swimming pool in late July.

Of course, the ski season lasts from mid-December to Late March, but the winter is otherwise a pretty miserable time to visit Europe, where winter means either -40 in the North or grey skies and inadequate central heating in the South.

I’ve just got back from an epic three-week trip down to southern Italy and back in the camper van and I have to say that mid-March is in some ways an ideal time to ‘do Europe’ if you are interested in culture rather than beaches. There were no queues for museums, no reservations necessary at restaurants, easy parking and sleeping wherever we liked in the van.  The coast roads were traffic-free, which is also a huge bonus in places like the French Riviera and the Italy’s Amalfi coast, where there is enough local traffic to cause headaches at the best of times.

The weather was extremely varied, ranging from bright sunshine in Lyon to freezing hail in Naples, to snow in the Alps and April Showers in Belgium.  It really felt like we got a unique insight into a side of Europe we hadn’t seen before.

Most importantly, of course, there were none of those insufferable other tourists ruining our tourism by doing touristy things and being all touristy.  Which was great!

%d bloggers like this: