I rarely go shopping these days but with the impending advent of the Festival of Mammon I ventured into Camberley yesterday to buy some presents. One of the emporia I visited was Argos and, my, what a depressing and salutary experience that is.
It is reminiscent of going to a bookmakers. You write down your selection on a little slip with the stubby pencil kindly provided. You queue up to put your bet on and hand over your stake. You are given a number and sit for a few minutes whilst the race is run. After a while – it feels longer than it actually is – your number is called, you go the check-out counter and amazingly you are told you have won and are handed a box which contains your winnings.
It is a soulless experience. You don’t have the enjoyment of viewing your intended purchase. It has the hallmarks of a post-High Street pre-Amazon shopping experience. You trade the convenience that on-line shopping brings of making your purchase from the comfort of your armchair for the convenience of getting your goods there and then rather than having to make a trip to some god-forsaken industrial site to collect your purchase because you were out when they tried to deliver it and hadn’t the wit to leave it with a neighbour.
It seems an out-dated business model with the warehouse attached to each store taking up premium space. There are signs that Argos are changing the business processes. They have announced that they are dispensing with the hard-copy version of their catalogue – bad news for those of us who used the brick-like catalogue to rectify wonky furniture – and relying on an on-line version. I suspect they will gravitate to purely an on-line presence. Whether they have the heft to offer the level of discounts needed to survive in that environment is a matter of conjecture and time.
For me, I shall not be darkening their portals for at least another year.
Wolf Hall – Hilary Mantel
Unusually for a Man Booker Prize winner – Mantel won the 2009 prize for this book and the 2012 prize for the sequel, Bring Up The Bodies – this is quite an accessible and readable novel.
It deals with the well-chronicled troubles of Henry VIII and his attempts to divorce his first queen, Catherine of Aragon, and marry his new paramour, Ann Boleyn. However, unlike many accounts of the period Wolf Hall concentrates on the behind-the-scenes machinations of the court from the perspective of the novel’s protaganist, Thomas Cromwell. In modern political parlance, Cromwell is portrayed as the monarch’s Mr Fix-It.
Probably wisely, Mantel assumes a high degree of familiarity with the broad sweep of events and concentrates on the details of the period and tries – I believe in the main successfully – to bring the period to life. She is particularly successful in building up the character of Cromwell who despite his loyalty to his king is really out for himself.
The book ends with the demise of Thomas More and Ann Boleyn’s failure to produce the longed-for male heir and with a sense of anti-climax – the reader is left wanting the rest of the story to unfold.
Wolf Hall is the seat of the Seymours – Jane makes only fleeting appearances in the book as a maid-in-waiting to the Boleyn court – but Mantel seems to use it as a metaphor for Henry’s court.
The book may seem a trifle long and has some stylistic oddities – she is fond of switching subject but only using the third-person masculine (or feminine) article, which can be a tad confusing for the inattentive reader – but is worth persevering with.
Twenty one down, twenty five to go, thirty one points to find.
Crawley Town 2 TMS 2
TMS’s first game in a fortnight saw yet another centre back combination and a promise of greater mental steel. All hopes of a bright new dawn evaporated in the first 60 seconds as TMS found themselves one down to a Simpson shot – the 10th time (in 21 league games) that a TMS league game has seen a goal in the first 5 minute and the 9th conceded by TMS.
TMS fought back gamely and by the 34th minute had taken the led through a Taylor shot, following on from a 13th minute equaliser from Richards. Only a fine save prevented Rodgers extending the lead in the second half but with an air of inevitability that is characterising this campaign, Crawley equalised with 10 minutes to go through Simpson again.
Disappointing to not break the winless away sequence but most fans would have settled for a point before kick-off. Results fell kindly for TMS and they move up a place (21st) and a point nearer the pack.
Next up, Carlisle at home.
Students of the physiognomy of our esteemed Chancellor of the Exchequer have remarked upon his propensity to smirk, a feature which is particularly pronounced the starker the news he has to convey. (There have been lots of opportunities recently to observe this trait). Smirking, a word which derives its origin from the Old English noun for a smile, smearcian, has developed a connotation of smugness and scornfulness. A smirk can indicate a degree of self-satisfaction and perhaps even insecurity and nervous strain.
Lord Chesterfield has something to say on smirking (natch), “a constant smirk upon the face and a whifling activity of the body are strong indications of futility”.
Futility, smugness, self-satisfaction – surely none of this can apply to our Gideon?
The state of Washington has just voted to legalise the smoking of marijuana – for aspiring pot tourists, please note that it is still illegal to buy and sell the stuff there. Seattle, the largest city in the State, houses the corporate headquarters of, amongst others, Starbucks, the coffee chain that first made its appearance on the London streets on the King’s Road (natch) in 1998.
I wonder whether the sweet aroma of the herb has been mixing with more pungent whiff of coffee beans in the corporation’s board room, judging by their latest wheeze. Recognising that the plea of poverty and poor operating results in the UK resulting in no profits upon which to pay tax was not finding much favour with the great British populace – I have noticed ever since their tax affairs came into the public arena that Starbucks joints are looking a tad empty these days – they have just launched a new concept – pay as much tax as you want when you want to.
I think it is a great idea. You can put your own value on the benefit you derive from the services and benefits that are funded by your tax pounds and make your own assessment as to how much you value them and what you want to contribute to maintaining them. To give a bit of rigour to the process perhaps your valuation should be a matter of public record so that your neighbours, friends and foes can see how generous or niggardly you have been. It will save having to fill in tax forms and the government having to employ a panoply of civil servants who seem to spend their time harrying the poor individual citizen rather than pursuing with vigour the corporates.