Sunday, April 20, 2008

If You Go Down To The Woods Today...

With more than half of Europe's wild bears within its borders, the Romanian forest is the ideal place for some bear-stalking. By Chris Stone

First published in Wizzit, Wizz Air In Flight magazine, February 2008.

Monday, April 14, 2008

TV Licence

The world gets weirder by the day.

I went to buy a TV licence this week. Where do you go to get a TV licence? You go to the Post Office, surely.

Not any more, it seems. These days you buy your TV licence from Threshers.

Some of you may already know this. You probably think this is old news. Apparently the Post Office hasn’t sold TV licences for two years now. But for me it was just astounding.

I think my jaw actually dropped when the man behind the counter told me. I think I took a step back in astonishment. And then, when I asked where I should go, and he told me that the nearest pay-point was Threshers, I’m sure I did a sort of pirouette on the spot, looking round and raising my arms in a shrug of disbelief. I wanted to ask the people in the queue behind me if they had ever heard of such a thing?

TV licences from Threshers now. Whatever next? Greetings cards from the greengrocers? Suntan lotion from the butchers? Maybe the Job Centre could sell me bottle of ketchup to go with my bag of chips from Champs bakery.

Later, when I got to Threshers, I had another surge of incomprehension at what I was about to do.

I said, “excuse me, I can’t believe I’m asking for this, but is this place to buy a TV licence these days?”

“It is,” said the manager.

I turned around, and the man waiting behind me was clutching a TV licence top-up card.

I said, “look, he’s at it too.”

The man said, “it’s the easiest way,” handing his card to the Thresher’s manager to get it topped up.

So there I am, amidst all the bottles of wine and spirits, the cans of lager, the crisps and snacks, the half-price special offers, the Three-For-The-Price-Of-Two deals, buying myself a TV licence.

I felt that I must have entered a parallel universe. Andy Pandy in La-La Land. A place where nothing is as it seems.

Then again, maybe there’s a kind of twisted logic to all of this. The price of beer at the pub being so prohibitive these days, maybe they want us all just sat at home drinking on our own, in our own separate little boxes, watching the TV, while they fill us up with their drivel, pumping our heads so full of hysterical, screaming nonsense that we no longer notice that the whole world is being bought and sold from under us, that nothing actually matters any more.

Have you watched any telly lately? You have to be drunk to bear it.

So why are our Post Offices closing down? Why is the central Post Office in Canterbury now upstairs in WH Smiths, so that old people are made to clamber up the stairs while being bombarded with WH Smiths’ advertising from every angle? Why are local Post Offices all over the country disappearing?

You hear talk of market forces and the like. You hear talk of them being uneconomic. But then, you have to ask, who made them uneconomic, when the TV licence franchise is being handed over to Threshers?

What other services are being filtered off?

The term “market forces” is a euphemism.

It’s just another term for government economic policy.