Ideology alone doesn’t make real people’s lives better

Whether you believe that public ownership is the right way to go about things or that everything should be run by profit-intending companies, if you’re pursuing transforming one to the other across the board then you better have a bloody good reason.

There were murmurings of the ideology debate of public v private hanging about before the election in May, but with Jeremy Corbyn and Andy Turnham currently playing one-up on what they’d buy back it seems both are missing the point that it doesn’t really matter.

When Ed Miliband got involved in the energy market we all ended up paying more

Most people couldn’t care less how something happens, just that it does. Most people (including me) don’t mind private or public, as long as it achieves what it’s supposed to and the outcomes are the best they can be.

In the same way, most people don’t see why you’d change something that was working unless you had a way of making it much better. Humans are naturally lazy, we all know that, and so we’re also naturally suspicious or untrusting of people who aren’t.

We just need you to tell us what difference it’d make to us

Take that person at work who seems super-human: promoted every couple of weeks, gym at lunch, charity fun-run at the weekend and fosters 2 or 3 children. Oh, and they’ve baked a cake and popped it in the break room if you fancy a slice. We all wonder what they’re after, deep down, while smiling politely and eating their delicious cake.

So as much as we don’t like that guy, we’re not going to vote for someone who is going to throw the railways, energy companies and whatever else into the turmoil of nationalisation purely because they’re going to do that.

We need more – and that’s a problem because neither Burnham nor Corbyn have ever run a railway or an energy company, or a water company. They are, at best, ‘expert customers’, and history tells us that when politicians get involved in running things they know nothing about it starts to get messy.

Soundbite politics demands promises of x number of trains being run on certain lines, an increase of x number of seats or a cut of x per cent of ticket prices. All impossible or incredibly difficult to achieve. And when it doesn’t happen, blame is on the boss – forced to hand back a bonus and then step aside for the next one in line, despite never really having a chance.

Just look at how Network Rail gets treated when things go wrong, a series of problems that are ultimately down to a lack of historic investment in the track, trains and people (there’s not enough of any of them) and a lack of enough money right now.

Or when Ed Miliband got involved in the energy market with his pledge to cap the prices suppliers could charge for gas and electricity, even without being in power or realistically having much chance of getting any, and we all ended up paying more as a result.

Authenticity is great, but we do actually want you to make our lives better too

Changing things because you believe in them, because you don’t like them or because you think something else would just be intrinsically better is fine when you’re picking paint for the spare bedroom but I don’t think it’s wrong to demand more than “because ideology” from our elected officials.

You see, as much as the coverage of the first tranche of share sales in RBS drove me mad last week – with the fictional lost £1bn leading Labour’s criticism – it was a massive missed opportunity for ideology and reason to come together.

Imagine a world where instead of Barbara Keeley, the shadow treasury minister, appeared on the Today programme to chastise George Osborne for following advice from people who know things about how money works and for generally being a Conservative, Labour had instead campaigned during the election for full-nationalisation of RBS.

Given that most people currently hate, dislike or aren’t really all that fussed about bankers nationalising a bank seems like about the right thing to do especially with only 20% or so to go.

A nationalised RBS could’ve been home to a much stronger Help to Buy ISA to give people a real prospect of owning a home instead of a fake one, it could’ve offered cheaper car insurance for young people priced out of the market and all those small business loans that we need to give people jobs and grow the economy back to where it should be.

That would’ve done some good, ticked the ideology box (not that it matters to most) and not have sounded all that mad really.

Perhaps I’m not quite right in the head but regardless of whether it’s hard-left, hard-right or centre-ist ideology that they’re spouting, unless politicians can translate the why beyond their own beliefs and into something that’ll make things better for me, then I fail to see why they bother at all.

RBS Photo by Mark Ramsay. Gas Burner photo by Steven Depolo

#642Things: LIVUNG

It’s your worst nightmare isn’t it? You never think about it as you walk past people on the street, sat on the pavement with their manky sleeping bag, bits of newspaper, their scruffy jumper and the obligatory dog. This is one of those things you wake up in the middle of the night sweating over, this.

I’ve always been different. Right back to primary school people always used to be able to spot it and, of course, they’d pick on it. It’s what kids do isn’t it? Seek out the ones who just aren’t quite the same and then make sure they know about it; more fool them though because every one I’ve ever met who was bullied at school has turned out far better than the ones who spotted it. It must be something about late-developing genius, not having the skills to blend in early or something means you stand out from the crowd when you’re older. Couple it with just a little tiny bit of genius and there you go: a success.

Well this is me standing out now, Mum.

Sat here on the closed lid of this toilet, waiting for the cleaners to shut up shop so that I can have free rein over the place for another night.

I was reading about it a few nights before it happened: when most people get made homeless they spend a few weeks, maybe a few months, doing what they call ‘sofa surfing’: staying with friends, switching between them, perhaps never telling anyone the full story of why you’re there or ever mentioning that you’re, y’know. That you don’t necessarily have a home of your own at the moment.

It means the homelessness figures are all wrong, so it’s a right pain for the Government to work out just how many of us there are. Not that I’m in their figures either. I don’t suppose even the most attentive homeless charities have taken to scouring their local IKEA after hours for the distinguished modern hobo have they?

It’s quite a good place to stay, when you think about it. I’ve not been doing badly out of it anyway – it’s been nine months now that I’ve been here, and the 99p breakfasts still haven’t lost their edge. I’m getting a bit sick of meatballs to be honest.

IKEA’s got just about everything a middle class person without somewhere to lay their Waitress organic quinoa might want. A comfy bed for the night, every night, no matter what kind of mattress you prefer. There’s sofas, desks, chairs and more cushions and rugs than you could ever want to lie on and the moonlight shining through the skylights dotted about the place makes it feel just a bit romantic.
The day times here are easy: I try and get out as much as possible but spending the day here an be a lot of fun and less hassle, especially if it’s raining out. The one thing this place doesn’t do well is washing or drying clothes.

I designed 4 kitchens today; the first time round I acted the customer and pretended I’d got an absolutely massive one. I had them putting everything in.I think we ended up with about four coffee machines and all at different heights so that my dwarf wife and her 7ft tall step-son could both have easier access, and then two for me obviously. Because sometimes I like decaf.

By my fourth time round I switched roles, and I ended up designing the kitchen for this lovely couple who’d come in with their 18 month old daughter.

She slept for most of the consultation, but towards the end – just when we were discussing the merits of a stainless steel sink over a granite one – she woke up and there wasn’t a peep out of her. Just a lovely smile. Even she must’ve liked the kitchen.

It ended up looking lovely on the screen and they were so pleased with it. They said I could pop over for a cuppa once they’d got it finished if I had the time.

The night times are a bit harder. There’s just so much time.

It was all so sudden when it happened that I didn’t think all that much about it. I just had to find somewhere to be, and I wanted to get a new bookcase. So there I was. In IKEA. And here I am waiting for the cleaners to finish up and lock up. They won’t be long now, I suspect. They’re normally done by about 11, which is quite impressive if you think about the size of this place, and they’ll be long gone by11.30. Then it’s all mine.

I usually wander about at first. The toilets, where I hide from the cleaners each night from about 9pm, are at the very front of the store so every night when I emerge it’s just like the first time I walked in through the door. I head straight for the beds. Through the pre-made living rooms, past the bloody kitchens and into the ‘desk and chair’ section.

They really do keep that hydraulic fake-arse running all the time testing the seat, you know. It scared the absolute shit out of me the first night when I heard it: I’d forgotten it was there, and it sounds so odd in the dark when you can’t see what’s happening and you remember that you’re creeping about in an IKEA store after it’s closed, looking for somewhere to sleep.

I don’t know what I thought it was but I was almost certain I’d been caught and I was about to get slung out, or worse slung into a cell somewhere. Maybe it’d be better in a cell?

It’s good to have a bed each night, don’t get me wrong, but living in IKEA isn’t the easy ride you might think. I mean aside from the farts that a diet of cheap bacon and eggs and meatballs and chips generates, there’s the problems finding a plug to charge your phone, the constant fear of being caught, and the bloody one-way system.

You’d never be able to get lost in your own house after nine months living there, would you? Yet, I can still manage it in this place.
If I’ve learnt anything from these last few months it’s that short cuts are never shorter routes to where you wanted to be. They all lead to the children’s section and in my case an hour or so of trying to get comfortable sleeping on a rubberised, garish sofa. I dread to think how much urine it hasn’t absorbed.

Nope, never believe short cuts are going to get you where you want. You get offered everything you’ve ever wanted, a chance at happiness, to do exactly what you want without all of that pesky admin and agro.

Then they find out, and they have to go and spoil it.

Picture by Fernanod on Flickr

A week with Apple Music

It’s been a little more than a week with Apple Music now, but today I reinstalled Spotify and walked away – but I didn’t want to.

If you read my blog earlier in the week, you’ll know I’m not anti-Apple at all and I’m pretty convinced that they’ve created the future with Apple Pay. I’ve got a MacBook Pro, an Apple Watch, two iPhones (I’m still not sure what to do with the 5C I keep in my desk drawer really), an iMac and an iPad. I’m really sold on the whole Apple thing, but Music just isn’t quite right.

When I pick up an Apple product I expect that I’ll work out how to use it pretty instinctively, but I’m still struggling with Apple Music. I’ve never read instructions for any of my other Apple products, but with Apple Music I’m increasingly feeling like I need a Reader’s Digest guide for it – and that’s just because of the awful UI.

I think it feels more like I’ve been given accidental access to full-length previews of songs on the iTunes store than a dedicated steaming service

There’s plenty of people around the Internet saying the same thing about the UI being awful: on OS X it feels badly wrapped off from the iOS App and on both you can get lost in a set of menus in search of an option that doesn’t exist.

Clicking on a song takes you to the album, clicking on an album takes you to the artist and I’ve no idea what clicking on an artist does but I can only assume it’ll have something to do with downloading a U2 album.

Basically, I think it feels more like I’ve been given accidental access to full-length previews of songs on the iTunes store and not that I’ve signed up to a shiny new streaming service.

Even the little things, which Apple are usually so good at, aren’t quite there: My offline playlists don’t work when I’m offline, I’ve somehow ended up with entire albums in playlists instead of individual songs and when I click play on anything there’s a noticeable pause while it considers playing it.

And don’t even get me started on why everything you search leaves you in the ‘new’ tab, or why you have to turn off connect in restrictions to get a bloody ‘Playlists’ button on iOS.

The whole thing looks like a marketing team leading the development schedule, the development schedule leading the UI and no one having the balls to mention that even before it became a music discovery and streaming app, iTunes was already a mess.

I’m sticking around for now, but only because I want it to be better than it is. I mean, they fixed maps eventually didn’t they?

A week with Apple Pay

After a week or so of using Apple Pay almost exclusively, I’m convinced it’s the future.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been carrying around some kind of payment or loyalty card on my phone. It started out with an unofficial app for my Tesco Clubcard and it’s only grown since.

I bet you’re the same, carrying around loyalty and payment cards for Starbucks, Subway, Costa, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Nectar, Cineworld and countless other one-time things like Airline tickets. It’s worked really well and, while I’ve said before that I’ve scrapped loyalty schemes, I’m guilty of carrying round more loyalty cards on my phone than I ever did in my wallet.

With success often there comes problems and the Passbook phenomenom is no exception. Without fail, almost every single time I’ve paid using my watch or phone since Apple Pay launched there has been some kind of untidiness about the transaction – and it’s Passbook’s fault.

Perhaps there’s an argument that retailers should have been preparing their staff better, perhaps card payment merchants should have contacted shops with contactless to let them know something new was coming that would work in their store, or perhaps it’s just something that needs time to bed in but I’ve been shocked by how confusing store staff have found the whole thing.

My first transaction, at 8am on the day Apple Pay launched in the UK, was confused – the Barista assumed I wanted to scan my Costa Card and turned on the scanner, not the card reader – but that’s not as bad as the Starbucks Store in Southampton this week who made the same assumption, only to find that cancelling it and clicking ‘card’ froze up the store’s tills.

A lady in McDonald’s just tried to make me insert my phone into the card slot. #ApplePay— Nic (@picnarkes) July 15, 2015

The staff member serving me at the coffee shop by work that I use on a regular basis had to call her manager when I paid with my watch, essentially accusing me of breaking their till or committing some kind of fraud because she didn’t think Apple Pay was allowed in her store. On the whole, I’ve just met massive problems with trying to communicate clearly how I’d like to pay.

“I’d like to pay with Apple Pay” is the obvious one, but that’ll only work in some places that have signed up or understand it’s just the same as contactless. Even in Nando’s (an official partner) asking that and presenting it to the chap serving was met with “what’s that?”, and that seems to be the theme.

I tried out asking “Can I pay by contactless?” and that worked in Hampshire, but trying it London was just met with someone looking confused. The same of “I’d like to pay by card” in shops I know support contactless, and of “Can I pay by Apple Pay? It’s just a contactless card.”

It seems the wrong way round, but I’ve actually found the language barrier with so many staff in retail in London means Apple Pay has a far better user experience than in our buzzing capital and I’m not sure how we fix that. Perhaps it’s just a case of waiting, and paying using Apple pay as much as possible.

I’m OK with charging graduates more

It seems to me that the dichotomy of being against cuts or for cuts is falling apart as the breadth of the changes the Government are making increases – and actually, for one thing, I’m OK with cutting free money for students.

I’m always pretty fast at coming to an opinion over things, and usually equally as quick at changing my mind but I’ve stuck with this one since the budget, and for once I’m actually informed on the issue as well.

You see I was the first person in my family to go to university, I didn’t come from a well-off background, I received a maintenance grant and a full student loan and I now earn more than average, and pay back some of my student loans each month, as a result of the fact I continued my education.

Frankly, I can’t see what’s wrong with the fact that there was a system in place that allowed me to do some more, very expensive education and then only pay for it when I was seeing the benefit in my pocket.

And I think that’s the problem: what everyone seems to forget is that student loans aren’t like other loans. They aren’t really strung ‘around your neck’, as much as that’s a convenient phrase to use in television interviews and in articles.

I was the first person in my family to go to university, I didn’t come from a well-off background,

Student loans are incredibly cheap debt, they don’t appear on your credit record so they don’t affect your ability §to get other loans, you only pay them back when you’re benefiting from the education you bought and they get written off when you hit 60 whether you’ve paid a penny or not.

That’s not to say that I think the system is faultless either: earning just above the threshold and never progressing means you’ll end up paying back more than someone who earns more and that probably needs fixing somehow and the total amount of funding available each year is laughable, but on the whole the student loan system seems pretty fair.

My argument rests on the assumption that higher education isn’t going to be free.

For what it’s worth, I think charging those people benefiting from the extra education is a far fairer way of paying for it than general taxation.

So far, actually, the main arguments I’ve seen against the changes are that they put poorer people at a disadvantage, saddle young people with too much debt and that tuition fees are wrong anyway and just another example of how the Tories don’t like the young.

None of those things are true without caveats, and I guess if I’m truthful this is where I struggle with so many of the campaigns against cutting (or changing) things that the Government does.

In trying to create a message that’s simple enough for their campaign to catch the wind, complicated facts get simplified or left out and like a bad comedy programme stereotypes are used instead to fill the gaps.

If the evil Mr Osborne has decided to make the change, then of course it must be bad – and of course, it’ll only be half the story too with further evil leaps of faith ‘as standard’.

I’m happy to be enlighted, but I don’t see how someone from a less-well-off background is going to be any less able to afford to go to University as a result of the change from a maintenance grant to more maintenance loan. The amount of money on offer will still be the same, and paying it back will only start when earnings increase as a result.

I’m happy to see the stats in three years and admit I was wrong, but the figures for the number of people applying to go to University don’t seem to be showing that it’s a less attractive offer than it was.

And I’ll happily eat a very small hat if I’m wrong, but I’m still not convinced we need more people to go to University anyway: don’t we have a graduate unemployment problem?

Not all cuts can be bad, you know.

It seems to me that the dichotomy of being against cuts or for cuts is falling apart as the breadth of the changes the Government are making increases – and actually, for one thing, I’m OK with cutting free money for students.

I’m always pretty fast at coming to an opinion over things, and usually equally as quick at changing my mind but I’ve stuck with this one since the budget, and for once I’m actually informed on the issue as well.

You see I was the first person in my family to go to university, I didn’t come from a well-off background, I received a maintenance grant and a full student loan and I now earn more than average, and pay back some of my student loans each month, as a result of the fact I continued my education.

Frankly, I can’t see what’s wrong with the fact that there was a system in place that allowed me to do some more, very expensive education and then only pay for it when I was seeing the benefit in my pocket.

And I think that’s the problem: what everyone seems to forget is that student loans aren’t like other loans. They aren’t really strung ‘around your neck’, as much as that’s a convenient phrase to use in television interviews and in articles.

I was the first person in my family to go to university, I didn’t come from a well-off background,

Student loans are incredibly cheap debt, they don’t appear on your credit record so they don’t affect your ability §to get other loans, you only pay them back when you’re benefiting from the education you bought and they get written off when you hit 60 whether you’ve paid a penny or not.

That’s not to say that I think the system is faultless either: earning just above the threshold and never progressing means you’ll end up paying back more than someone who earns more and that probably needs fixing somehow and the total amount of funding available each year is laughable, but on the whole the student loan system seems pretty fair.

My argument rests on the assumption that higher education isn’t going to be free.

For what it’s worth, I think charging those people benefiting from the extra education is a far fairer way of paying for it than general taxation.

So far, actually, the main arguments I’ve seen against the changes are that they put poorer people at a disadvantage, saddle young people with too much debt and that tuition fees are wrong anyway and just another example of how the Tories don’t like the young.

None of those things are true without caveats, and I guess if I’m truthful this is where I struggle with so many of the campaigns against cutting (or changing) things that the Government does.

In trying to create a message that’s simple enough for their campaign to catch the wind, complicated facts get simplified or left out and like a bad comedy programme stereotypes are used instead to fill the gaps.

If the evil Mr Osborne has decided to make the change, then of course it must be bad – and of course, it’ll only be half the story too with further evil leaps of faith ‘as standard’.

I’m happy to be enlighted, but I don’t see how someone from a less-well-off background is going to be any less able to afford to go to University as a result of the change from a maintenance grant to more maintenance loan. The amount of money on offer will still be the same, and paying it back will only start when earnings increase as a result.

I’m happy to see the stats in three years and admit I was wrong, but the figures for the number of people applying to go to University don’t seem to be showing that it’s a less attractive offer than it was.

And I’ll happily eat a very small hat if I’m wrong, but I’m still not convinced we need more people to go to University anyway: don’t we have a graduate unemployment problem?

Not all cuts can be bad, you know.